Strategy overview

  • Cash at regular intervals: Guaranteed income programs provide unconditional cash transfers to residents at regular intervals, often monthly or biweekly. Transfers can vary in size, but many programs have experimented with around $500 per month.
  • Unrestricted funds: Residents generally receive the same amount of money at each interval, and there are no restrictions on how the funds can be spent.
  • Distributed via debit card: Cash is often provided to residents via debit cards, which allows residents without bank accounts to benefit from programs.
  • Public administration, mixed funding streams: Some guaranteed income programs are privately funded and publicly operated, while others are run entirely by the public sector. Nonprofit agencies often provide outreach, logistical, and marketing support.

While initial results from several experimental and quasi-experimental studies on guaranteed income are promising, further research on long-term programs and effects is necessary to fully assess strategy impacts.

  • A 2020 research synthesis on the existing body of scientific and qualitative evidence found that results from guaranteed income programs are generally positive, alleviating poverty and improving health and education outcomes. The synthesis also identified that effects on labor market participation are minimal.

  • A 2022 research synthesis found that cash transfer programs and supplemental assistance programs can have positive, multi-generational effects.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure this strategy addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in guaranteed income. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

  • Design programs alongside residents: Several effective guaranteed income programs have spent significant periods (up to 9 months) engaging with community members to guide program execution. This engagement can include frequent town halls, focus groups, and interviews with residents. This extensive process can increase trust and engagement with the program and address logistical hurdles that could otherwise undermine the approach.
  • Prioritize data collection and transparency: To help demonstrate the program’s impact, collect extensive data from participants via surveys and expense tracking. Alongside this tracking, successful programs may create a resident advisory board, which can serve as an effective means of answering questions from the public. For some residents, this type of transparency and ongoing engagement can increase comfortability in participating.
  • Preserve existing benefits: Because regular cash transfers may alter a recipient’s income status, implementing agencies must carefully design a strategy that ensures a recipient’s public benefits will not be impacted. This may include partnering with city and/or county human service agencies to create waivers or launching a “hold harmless” fund to reimburse recipients in the event that other public benefits are reduced as a result of participating in the program.
  • Devote resources to storytelling: To counteract prevailing narratives about unconditional cash transfers, consider funding a pool of recipients to share stories of how cash transfers have impacted their lives. This can help the program demonstrate how the cash is overwhelmingly used for essential items, like food, clothing, and utilities.