In a promising contribution to the debate over poverty policy, the Institute on Race and Political Economy at the New School has released a major welfare reform proposal that it calls a Guaranteed Income for the 21st Century. Details of the proposal (abbreviated GI21 in what follows) are set out in a report written by Naomi Zewde, Kyle Strickland, Kelly Capatosto, Ari Glogower, and Darrick Hamilton. The proposal makes a full-scale assault on America’s social protection gap. It includes several features that the Niskanen Center has long championed, such as an emphasis on cash assistance, broad eligibility, and payment in monthly installments with appropriate provisions for the unbanked. Although the proposal is not budget-neutral, its estimated cost of $876 billion per year is considerably less than that of several other proposals for a universal basic income.
All proposed reforms of the social safety net face a set of tradeoffs among the goals of income security, affordability, and work incentives. This commentary will examine how GI21 deals with those tradeoffs, beginning with the areas where it is strongest and then turning to aspects of the plan that could benefit from some further thought.