Oregon Lawmakers Drop the Ball on Basic Income

By Stacey Rutland

A new bill introduced by Rep. Brad Witt in the Oregon legislature would have established a state-run basic income program. H.R. 4079 would have created the Oregon Freedom Pilot Program, a fund for a long-term basic income of $750 a month distributed to more than 2,000 former foster youth and single moms across the state. While a hearing on the bill was slated for last month, lawmakers canceled it at the last minute — effectively killing the bill, and the chance to help some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

According to the most recent statewide data, Oregon has close to 1,700 youth 15 and over who are close to aging out of the foster care system. These kids have the deck stacked against them. The National Foster Youth Initiative estimates that one out of five will become homeless as soon as they turn 18. Only half will have any form of gainful employment by the time they’re 24. They have less than a 3% chance of graduating from college.

This is nothing short of a crisis, but very few government resources are dedicated to this extremely vulnerable population. Single mothers, among the most economically marginalized in our population, would’ve been included as well.

The funding for the program would have come from a tax on certain luxury goods such as expensive jewelry and private aircrafts. At a time when bridges are being dismantled to make room for a billionaire’s mega yacht, the very wealthy can certainly afford to pay their fair share so that we do not allow another generation of foster youth to be pushed into a life of poverty.

Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR.

Offering foster youth and single mothers, two groups facing significant barriers to economic security, the stability of a basic income would have been nothing short of transformative. Early data from the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot that offered recipients $500 monthly for two years, showed the money improved everything from the ability to secure a full-time job to mental and physical health. Results from the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a guaranteed income program that provides $1,000 a month to Black mothers living in extreme poverty, shows similar promise. Mothers who received the money were more likely to have children performing above grade level, to have money saved, to go to the doctor when they were sick.

We can also see the tremendous benefit unrestricted cash programs offer at the national level: a recent analysis of stimulus checks found that the primarily cash-based policies enacted during the pandemic resulted in food insufficiency falling by over 40%, financial instability falling by 45%, and reported adverse mental health symptoms falling by 20%. Last year’s expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments were a basic income provided to nearly every parent in the U.S. Data showed the CTC payments led to significant decreases in food insecurity and child poverty, and lifted 3.7 million kids from poverty in December alone. With Congress failing to re-authorize the CTC through the Build Back Better Act, researchers at Columbia University estimate four million children were pushed into poverty last month as a result.

The data shows us that the Oregon Freedom Pilot Program would have provided a desperately-needed financial lifeline and the promise of new opportunities to thousands of the most marginalized Oregonians. It is also time for Oregon to join the ranks of states and nearly every major city across the country testing out basic income programs — the state has traditionally led the country in showing what is possible, but in this case is lagging behind. This has led Income Movement to lead the effort on building a state-wide coalition for basic income in Oregon. We’ll share more about this in the coming months.

While HR 4079 did not advance during this legislative session, Income Movement has been working with Rep. Witt’s office to build support for its reintroduction next session. This is also something voters want — in just 24 hours, 600 letters were sent in support of the legislation to the House Committee On Human Services, the committee that failed to moved the bill forward.

Foster children and single mothers are too often left behind by our economy and society. The Oregon Freedom Pilot is a critical step in changing that reality and toward a vision of a state in which everyone is afforded the same opportunity to not just survive, but thrive.

Stacey Rutland is the Founder of Income Movement.

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