Bill looks to create guaranteed income program in Minnesota

Woman speaks at a capitol committee hearing
Minnesota State Representative Athena Hollins (DFL) speaks at a committee hearing about a bill she authored to create a guaranteed income program
Minnesota House TV

A Minnesota House committee advanced a new bill that would establish a guaranteed monthly income statewide.

The bill, moving through the state house, would grant Minnesotans who meet low-income requirements at least $500 each month for more than a year. In the current text of the bill, to be eligible you must be at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

St. Paul tested the concept for more than a year, giving 150 residents $500 a month. Minneapolis is currently testing the concept; their pilot will end in June.

DFL Representative Athena Hollins from St. Paul authored the statewide bill. She joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about the legislation.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: This morning, a Minnesota House Committee advanced a new bill that would establish a statewide, guaranteed monthly income program. Now St. Paul tested the concept for more than a year, giving 150 residents $500 a month. Minneapolis is currently testing the concept. Their pilot will end in June. The bill moving through the state house would grant Minnesotans who meet low income requirements at least $500 each month for more than a year. People who benefited from St. Paul's program gave testimony this morning in support of the bill.

MERCEDES YARBROUGH: I'm Mercedes Yarbrough, a participant in the College Bound Program. I am a mother of four boys who seemed to have bottomless appetites. And the cost of groceries continued to rise. The $500 stipend provided by the College Bound Program has truly been a blessing for us during this challenging time.

CATHY WURZER: DFL Representative Athena Hollins from St. Paul authored the bill, and she's here to talk about it. Welcome, representative.

ATHENA HOLLINS: Thank you for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Since you represent a part of St. Paul, I'm thinking have some experience with the St. Paul Guaranteed Income Program. What did you see in St. Paul that convinced you this is worth expanding statewide?

ATHENA HOLLINS: Yes, so this program was originally brought to my attention by our mayor, Melvin Carter. I had not realized that it was even happening because it was deployed during the pandemic, so I don't think we got to see it closely in action because we were all stuck in our houses. But he brought it to my attention, and I got to meet some of the people who were impacted by it. And it was just remarkable, the stories that they told me, how they felt more secure, how they felt less stress, better mental health outcomes. And honestly, just the ability to save for a rainy day really impacted their well-being and financial situations.

CATHY WURZER: Now, I did not get a chance to listen to the testimony on your bill this morning in committee. But there are critics of the St. Paul effort and others, and they say it can foster dependency on government handouts, does nothing to foster self-reliance. What's your response to that?

ATHENA HOLLINS: Yes, I've heard all of those takes on the situation. And I think there's been a number of studies across the entire country that show that, really, this is just one small piece of a larger economic system. Nobody is surviving off of $500 a month, right? The average rent is $1,400 a month. And so, this is not something that is going to replace a job. This is simply going to supplement it.

And honestly, it's just giving people a little bit of a leg up in a situation where they are disproportionately impacted by our economic situation. The program that we currently have, you would have to meet certain requirements. So you would have to be on government assistance or be at 300% of the poverty level, which is, honestly, not a lot. So, it's not available to everybody. And the reality is, it's not going to last forever, right? This current program is scheduled to be 18 to 24 months at $500 a month.

CATHY WURZER: So, in the sense, as you say, this gives folks a leg up, does it kind of help launch them into greater economic prosperity?

ATHENA HOLLINS: Yes, so we've seen across the country, the studies that have been done on this, it shows that people end up having better jobs. They have better mental health outcomes. Studies done with people with young children, their children have better performances on testing and in daycares. Just across the board, we see an increase in health, well-being, economic development across the board.

And then the reality is, that money also flows back into local communities. And so, that's what we're really trying to do, is make sure that the communities where this help is needed across the state get to have access to it, and then hopefully bolster those local communities.

So, I don't know about you, but during the pandemic, when we got those, I would say, small amounts of money from the federal government, right? I would get a check every once in a while. What I did with that money was buy food from local restaurants, support organizations that were local to me, shop at businesses, and not just try to find the lowest cost item at Walmart, but actually try to support the businesses in my community that are providing jobs and that are supporting the local community. And so, really, we want to see that money be invested back into those local communities, so that it's helping an entire economic system, not just one person.

CATHY WURZER: So I'm wondering, as I mentioned in the lead, and you talked to Mayor Melvin Carter about the St. Paul experience-- Minneapolis has their pilot program-- I'm wondering about greater Minnesota. Do we have any evidence that a program like this, is there something out there already working in greater Minnesota? And how would this program build on that?

ATHENA HOLLINS: Yeah, I'm so glad that you asked that because that's one of the things that I really want to bring to the forefront with this. There is this notion that people who are economically disadvantaged are solely in the Twin Cities area, and that's just not true, right? We know that we have people who are struggling across the entire state of Minnesota.

And I was really pleased to have one of our testifiers this morning, who is from Springboard for the Arts. And so, they are a partner in that pilot program for basic income. And they have a program here in St. Paul, but also in Fergus Falls, where they are supporting artists in Fergus Falls who are local community artists. And their ability to contribute to the Fergus Falls art community is aided by this universal basic income program. So we know that it's working. Oh, sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.

CATHY WURZER: So we know-- you were going to say, it's working in greater Minnesota as well.

ATHENA HOLLINS: Yeah. Yes, we know it's working in greater Minnesota. And part of the goal of this program and one of the reasons why I really love it is, it's bringing a statewide program that is not going to necessarily apply to everybody because we have limited funds, but that different organizations, nonprofits, tribal governments, municipalities, can participate in. And they know best what their community needs and where people are struggling.

And so, I really love the idea of taking something that we've piloted in the cities, but bringing it to greater Minnesota and saying, hey, this could work for you, too, but we trust you to be the people to recognize and identify where there is this need. Because me in St. Paul, I don't know what Fergus Falls needs. I don't know what the Iron Range needs. And so, I want to support those communities in being able to bring this program to their people.

CATHY WURZER: I know you mentioned that folks already have to be on public assistance or be 300% below the federal poverty line. Any idea of how many Minnesotans could qualify?

ATHENA HOLLINS: I don't have that number off the top of my head, but I know that this program, as we envision it and with the money that we're requesting, would impact approximately 800 to 1,000 people, depending on the number, depending on the amount of the guaranteed income they would get per month.

CATHY WURZER: I know the requested appropriation's about 100 million, so I'm wondering--

ATHENA HOLLINS: That's correct.

CATHY WURZER: --with your House Speaker, Melissa Hortman, and other DFL leaders saying, tap the brakes on spending this session, how much of an uphill climb might this bill have in the House?

ATHENA HOLLINS: That's a fair question. I think it's safe to say that it does have an uphill climb. The bill was originally brought last year, but it was brought a little late. And so, we weren't able to get a hearing. And so, what we're really trying to do is tee up a conversation here about what this could look like. And I think we've already gotten some really good feedback from both sides of the aisle on things that they would like to see to bring this forward and make it a viable reality.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Representative, thanks for the time.

ATHENA HOLLINS: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to DFL State Representative Athena Hollins.

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