Eleven organizations in central Iowa have put together a pilot project for what’s called a basic income plan they will launch later this year.

The Director of Principal Foundation, Jo Christine Miles, says they will provide $500 each month to participants. “Folks who we know are tending to struggle to make ends meet. And let’s see how their health, their children’s educational outcomes, their work in housing choices are impacted by having this basic income to help them make those ends meet,” Miles says.

Miles says the idea came from Doctor Nalo Johnson, who is the President & CEO of Mid-Iowa Health Foundation after she saw results from other pilots across the country. “One of the things that we look forward to is people relieving that financial stress and being able to get better nutrition, etcetera,” Miles says.

They will seek 110 low-income individuals living in Polk, Warren and Dallas Counties. She says they want to see what happens when you help people get caught up — so that they can move into higher income levels. “What changes do we see occur on the psychological mental behavioral level, on the day-to-day, you know pedestrian bits of life food choices, etc. That’s why we wanted to give them the income and see what happens when we remove money as a barrier,” she says.

Miles says giving the participants money gives them more options compared to other supports like food assistance which has many restrictions on how it can be used. She says the data from the other pilots across the country have shown the money is well spent.

“They tend to spend it on basic needs. They tend to spend it on medical care, they tend to spend it on reducing debt that’s been a stressor for the household. And much of that debt is medical debt,” She says. “They tend to spend it on food, they tend to spend it on clothes and shoes that they might not have otherwise been able to get for their families.” Miles says the stories about people getting assistance and spending the money on things it wasn’t intended for tend to get more attention. She says that hasn’t proven to be true in these pilots.

“What we’re seeing is families are taking care of necessities, they aren’t out there, you know, buying booze or drugs or anything like that. Now, out of the thousands of cases, could there be one? Possibly? I haven’t heard of one. It hasn’t been reported in the literature,” according to Miles.

The other pilots across the country have been in places like Stockton, California, Baltimore, Maryland, Chicago, Atlanta, and Mexico. Miles says the Iowa project is unique. “Most of the other ones are in an urban context. This one, since it’s in central Iowa, and covering Polk, Warren and Dallas counties, you’re gonna get urban participants, primarily from Des Moines, you’re gonna get that kind of suburban participant coming out of parts of Dallas and Warren counties,” she says. “And you’re gonna get rural participants, primarily out of Warren and the far reaches of Dallas County. No other project or pilot in the country has achieved that.”

Miles says the Iowa pilot should provide some really interesting data to add to the national conversation. Recruitment is expected to begin in late November 2022, with the first payments starting in February 2023. This project is supported in part by federal funds under the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund awarded to Des Moines, Urbandale, and Polk County by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Others involved are the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation, Principal Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation, Windsor Heights, Bank of America, The Director’s Council, Telligen Community Initiative, and United Way of Central Iowa.