Guaranteed income

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.
Target Population
Adults and families
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, Nonprofit Partner, Human Services Department, Budget/Finance Department or External Funders, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Promising

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.

How do guaranteed income programs impact economic mobility?

  • Reduced income volatility: Guaranteed income programs can reduce income volatility for participants. Research suggests that income volatility can create significant negative financial outcomes for individuals and families, including reduced savings and the accumulation of late fees; income volatility can also result in significant negative physical health outcomes, like forgoing urgent medical treatments and food security.
  • Improved health: Some guaranteed income recipients report reduced anxiety and depression and better physical health, which research suggests can be brought on by income volatility. A wide body of research indicates that upward mobility is closely tied to positive physical and behavioral health outcomes.

Best practices in implementation

  • 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.