Task force to assess guaranteed income
District 2 Council member Amir Farokhi has launched a task force to consider how a guaranteed income program and other policy ideas could help reduce economic inequality in Atlanta, particularly in the Old Fourth Ward.
Establishing a guaranteed income, also known as basic income, would allow families and individuals to receive checks each month with the goal of helping them pay for essential items and to support a standard of living now and in the future.
In establishing the group, known as the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force, Farokhi noted that even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, there were already underlining economic issues in the country.
“The ability to make ends meet in America has for decades gotten harder and harder, but the pandemic has certainly exacerbated how vulnerable so many Americans are,” Farokhi said, noting in particular the economic insecurities facing the country’s black and brown populations.
Farokhi’s initiative will bring together 28 local and national stakeholders who will work together to produce recommendations aimed at addressing persistent wealth inequity for the Old Fourth Ward’s most vulnerable residents.
Farokhi, who represents the Old Fourth Ward, noted that the neighborhood is diverse in terms of age, race, professions, and how long residents have lived in the community, but that the most visible difference is income inequality.
“While there’s been a lot of benefits to the neighborhood over the last 20 years, there has also been a very stark highlighting of economic stratification and the struggles that folks can face,” he said.
The Old Fourth Ward is the neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and is considered by many to be the spiritual “heart” of the city.
Farokhi said Dr. King called for the eradication of poverty through, in part, a guaranteed income program.
While such a program wouldn’t necessarily eradicate poverty, Farokhi said, it could be a very effective tool to help address economic insecurity.
“I think it creates some stability and a balance of sorts for folks so that they’re not putting themselves in desperate positions,” he said, adding economic issues are only compounded when it’s difficult to pay bills, buy groceries, or afford items such as a bus pass.
The task force will be the first project of its kind in a major city in the Southeast. Policies promoting economic security such as a guaranteed income have gained popularity across the country. Stockton, California, Jackson, Mississippi and Newark, New Jersey are in various stages of piloting similar programs.
If the task force believes that a guaranteed income pilot project is worth launching in Atlanta, Farokhi said the next steps would be finding support from philanthropy to fund a multi-year pilot project.
He also noted that in addition to the idea of basic income, the task force will explore whether the state of Georgia should create an earned income tax credit, which would provide support to low- and moderate-income people.
He noted that such a credit exists at the federal level and that other states have established one.
“Often times, it’s a very useful tool to give low-income folks some breathing room and less of a tax burden,” he said.
The task force will also look at how the job landscape could look in the decades ahead.
“We want to look at the future of work for low income and middle-income workers,” Farokhi said. “What does the next 15 to 20 years look like with respect to jobs because of automation or how companies are thinking about staffing?”
The task force will hold its first meeting Wednesday, July 8.