Would you prefer food stamps or universal basic income? | The Tylt
Would you prefer food stamps or universal basic income?
To pay for Universal Basic Income, most other social services would have to be cancelled. For some, that would mean a massive loss of financial income. Per Vox:
Eliminating all existing transfer programs in favor of a UBI would leave some big holes. For example, under the UBI they propose, a single parent of three children would be eligible for $12,000 a year in total assistance. Under the current system, that parent would likely be eligible for a lot more: health care through Medicaid, food stamps, rent and housing assistance, and potentially transfer payments through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. “Replacing existing anti-poverty programs with a UBI would be highly regressive,” the paper argues. That’s not what anyone’s going for.
As everyone would be eligible for UBI, from the wealthiest Americans on down, the program would massively redistribute wealth and services. Pacific Standard Magazine explains that elderly Americans and families with children would experience the most noticeable depletion of services.
The elderly, in particular, would lose out—the average U.S. senior currently receives $17,400 in Social Security and about $12,900 in in-kind Medicaid and Medicare benefits. Preserving Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would, of course, enable the elderly to maintain their standards of living, but eliminating the rest of the social safety net programs—the EITC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, etc.—would cover only about 20 percent of the cost of a UBI. (While the exact calculations are specific to the U.S., the authors note that their conclusions are generalizable to other advanced economies.)
Many welfare experts, however, point out that the current welfare system is so confusing and extensive that many people who are eligible are not receiving services. Per Mother Jones:
The government’s main food-aid effort, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a perfect example. “SNAP is huge and really important to lifting people out of poverty,” she told Bite. “But it’s difficult to apply for and use,” Eligibility requirements are strict—for a family of four, gross monthly income can’t exceed $2,665, or about $32,000 per year. Adults have to comply with a work requirement and time limitations, and enrollment is “not automatic, even for families with kids,” Lowrey notes.
As a result, in 2015—the most recent year with government data—just 83 percent of Americans who met SNAP’s eligibility tests were enrolled in the program, and for the working poor, the participation rate was even lower: 72 percent.
A Universal Basic Income would alleviate much of this confusion, providing services to millions more Americans.
Additionally, there is a great deal of stigma associated with receiving social services, both from society at large and the government agencies tasked with providing them. Mother Jones explains that a UBI removes any stigma or overbearing regulations that often make people think twice about applying for social services.
“There are certain programs in place currently, which are deeply paternalistic, that tell the poor how to spend their money,” says Rakeen Mabud, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. “That paternalism, I think, goes away to some degree, when you replace some of those programs, the cash transfer program.”
“There’s a wealth of literature of the effectiveness of cash transfers over ad hoc [welfare] programs,” says Samuel Hammond, a researcher at the Niskanen Center who studies poverty.