Andrew Yang backs possible guaranteed income pilot program in Atlanta

A guaranteed income pilot program could begin in Atlanta as early as next year, with the goal of reducing inequality in the city, officials said Wednesday.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang joined Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi and former Mayor Shirley Franklin at an event in the Old Fourth Ward to discuss the idea of universal basic income and how it could impact Atlanta.

For the last six months, officials and residents have met as part of the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force to study what a guaranteed minimum income program could look like in the neighborhood, a historic sector of the city that has been rapidly gentrifying in recent years. The task force is expected to release a report in about a month that could kick off the pilot program.

Yang, who ran his presidential campaign on the idea of universal basic income, said the idea could lessen economic inequality in Atlanta and lead to more Old Fourth Ward residents being more economically secure.

“It’s these kinds of local initiatives that are going to both help people and also pave the way in the future for different forms of economic relief and a sustainable future,” Yang said in an interview. He is in Georgia to campaign for Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, candidates running against incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs.

Universal income initiatives involve direct payments to residents in the hopes of improving their financial standing and reducing poverty while bolstering the economy. Some pilot programs have already been launched in cities around the country.

ExploreAtlanta Mayor Bottoms joins other mayors exploring guaranteed income

Yang said the idea has remained popular since he ended his presidential campaign, in large part because of the direct stimulus checks that went out to millions of Americans in the spring after the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“Universal basic income then went from this interesting idea to something crucial to our very survival,” Yang said.

More than two dozen mayors across the country, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, also came out in support of monthly, cash payments given directly to individuals. The idea has gotten the attention of people like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who donated $15 million last week to the group Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

Farokhi is primarily looking to private, philanthropic donors to fund the pilot program in the Old Fourth Ward. It’s too early to say how many residents might receive the payments, or how much they’d get.

“This neighborhood has extreme poverty next to significant wealth, and we want to make sure that this a model neighborhood for economic [achievement],” Farokhi said.

Credit: J.D. Capelouto

Credit: J.D. Capelouto

Franklin, who was mayor from from 2002 to 2010 and serves as a co-chair of the Old Fourth Ward task force, said the idea would help combat the pervasive income inequality in Atlanta.

For many Atlantans, she said, “it is too difficult, way too difficult, to make it work financially, despite hard work. ... We need to consider bold solutions.”

While inequality is not unique to the Old Fourth Ward, Yang said, “I sense it is more extreme in this community than it is in some others, because of the growth that Atlanta has experienced.”

The New York-based tech entrepreneur also discussed his time in Georgia so far. One thing that surprised him about Atlanta?

“Buford Highway and the quality of the Asian food here in Atlanta,” Yang said, giving a shoutout to Food Terminal and Masterpiece. “I came here to try and help the country and help these campaigns win, and I ended up on a mini food tour!”