Republican senators to poor Iowans: Work harder to escape poverty

Iowa Sens. Scott Webster, Mike Bousselot, and Tony Bisignano take notes during an Iowa Senate subcommittee on banning basic income programs. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

March 13, 2024

According to two Republican state senators, participants in the UpLift—The Central Iowa Basic Income Program, just need to work harder and pull up their bootstraps to escape poverty.

“It’s not the first job that gives you a raise to maybe $15 an hour that leads to the uplift for the rest of your life and a greater promotion and greater career, but you’ve got to do the first step to get to the second step,” said Sen. Mike Bousselot (R-Ankeny).

“The challenge that I have with any program and, in this case, $6,000 a year, I have a challenge with any program that exacerbates that poverty trap that makes it harder for Iowans to pull themselves out of poverty.”

According to project organizers, 68% of UpLift participants work full- or part-time jobs, while the others are unpaid caregivers, disabled, or looking for work. Only 2% of participants identified themselves as unemployed or not looking for work. 

Furthermore, the funds are being spent on basic needs such as groceries, transportation, housing, and utilities. One participant even used the extra money to move her family to a safer neighborhood. 

Still, the Iowa Senate is considering an Iowa House bill that would ban local governments from participating in guaranteed income programs in the future. HF 2319 passed out of a Senate committee and subcommittee on Tuesday, the latter of which is where Bousselot shared his remarks.

UpLift was launched in February 2023 and receives no state funding. The program provides 110 participants from Dallas, Polk, and Warren counties with $500 a month with no restrictions or guidelines on how they use the funds. 

The program is funded via a public-private partnership with the private side providing 70% of the funds. Supporters include Bank of America, Polk County, Principal, Wells Fargo, and the cities of Des Moines, Windsor Heights, and Urbandale.

Sen. Scott Webster (R-Bettendorf) said during Tuesday’s subcommittee that he grew up in a divorced household where one parent was more financially stable than the other parent, so he knows what it is like to experience financial instability, but that well-intentioned government programs won’t resolve poverty. 

“The one thing I learned from my parents is that the struggle they went through actually taught me to try to work harder, to try to work smarter, to try to educate myself, to try to take risks to try to move myself forward,” he said.

Critics of the bill noted this legislation erodes local control since the state has nothing to do with this program and the data from UpLift and other basic income pilots across the country have shown that these programs can make a positive impact.

“Other pilots across the country are showing improvements in participants’ health outcomes, particularly around mental health as well as improvements in their economic stability such as being able to respond to an emergency or move to better employment,” UpLift Project Coordinator Ashely Ezzio told the senators.

“Others are finding that cash payments to low-income community members serve as an economic multiplier. These funds are used in local stores to purchase everyday needs.”

Ezzio also affirmed this project is a scientific study being conducted in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research. They are investigating the impact of basic income on Central Iowans and monitoring the outcomes of participants’ physical and mental health, housing conditions, employment status, financial well-being, school readiness for their children, and engagement with work.

“I stress, this is a research study that will share the results and information used to inform decision-makers as you seek to reduce poverty and support your local workforce,” Ezzio said.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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