UBI is about AND, not OR

This is a great twitter thread. Go read it, I’ll wait…
Another ‘services vs income support’ article?

Every article that talks about the ‘limitations’ of #BasicIncome, invariably takes an “or” stance. We can have UBI or we can have services. They almost never look at what can be built when we talk about Basic Income AND services. The truth is that a well-implemented UBI would allow services to be more efficient.

With the system we have now -welfare, unemployment, disability, housing, etc.- the vast majority of their budget and administration goes towards two things: Managing means testing, and cash payouts.

Means testing is the lion’s share of the administrative budget.

The ONLY purpose behind Means Testing is gatekeeping and controlling access to services to those people who “deserve” them. It is entirely based in making sure no one gets a dime more than they should.

It creates a a socially acceptable caste system, making those receiving “help” into second-class citizens.  Citizens that those not currently using social services are allowed to demean, mock and criticize every step of the way for being dependant on someone else’s “Hard Earned Money”.

It is so important to our society that only the correct people get social help, that the border of “deserving” is both horrifically inflexible -step one dollar over, suddenly you lose it all- and often completely divorced from the reality of the collective and individual need.

Vast amounts of bureaucracy go into maintaining this border. It’s a virtual Berlin Wall built of reams of paperwork to track people’s ‘means’, mortared in place by thousands of people paid just to sort and monitor that paperwork to make sure no one ‘cheats’.  That bureaucracy, focused on a single mission of Keep People Out, is replicated over dozens of social service agencies.

Imagine how much money would be saved, how much time and energy retained, if this obsessive system of means testing could be eliminated. 

The second major expenditure is the ‘cash payout’.

Every agency, no matter what other programs they offer, is first focused on a payout; be it in the form of a welfare check, food stamps, an unemployment check, a rent subsidy or some other cash outlay for the recipient.

There are charts and formulas and provisos galore, all (again) designed to tell the agency exactly how much support you “deserve” in the eyes of society. And they aren’t all working off the same formulas, oh no! Each agency has their own esoteric cantrips for how they determine who is eligible and for how much.

Nor do they work together to make sure people are getting the best service coverage possible; most agencies couldn’t tell you what’s available from another (even if they work on the same open-concept office floor), and getting more from one agency, can lead to getting less from another, even if you’re eligible for both.

The amount of time and effort that goes into figuring out how much money, and then getting it to the recipient, takes up a huge portion of agency resources; resources they could be using to create targeted, need based programs.

What could social service agencies achieve, if they didn’t need to focus on getting money into people’s hands?

Enter Universal Basic Income

The first thing UBI does is eliminate means testing. One administration, giving a cash payout to every adult human being in the country, means dozens of agencies not having to screen and test and monitor income under a microscope. It eliminates a layer of bureaucracy that we functionally would not need. 

By giving a Basic Income universally, to all people (with the ‘means’ balancing happening at tax time), we begin to remove the stratification between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’- if everyone is getting the same cash payout, then you can’t lord over someone for getting it. It doesn’t eliminate classism, by any stretch, but it is a start.

Removing cash payouts, and the mountain of resources to manage them, means that agencies can focus on personal and community NEED- what services does this client actually need? How can we actually serve them?

Freed from the necessity of focusing on a cash payout, agencies could start to offer a wider range of services; educational and vocational programs, increasing and improving housing, poverty mitigation, addressing food deserts, transportation options, increasing community resources.

Especially in the case of the disabled and the elderly, we can end the deeply unethical practice of tying their access to needed support services (like housing, medical care and therapeutic care) to their eligibility to a cash payout. No more making the elderly “spend down” into poverty to pay for nursing homes. No more making the disabled have a minimalist asset limit, just so they can have supported living services.

I have yet to hear a UBI supporter say that having a Basic Income means we would’t need housing assistance, or an unemployment agency, or food stamps. What I DO hear, is all the ways that moving to UBI as a foundation, will increase our ability to meet the needs of our communities.