Basic Income Pilot Program Nears Launch

For many Iowa families, the margin between comfort and need can be razor thin. A non-emergency medical procedure or even a new set of tires can be impossibly inaccessible without months of planning and saving. The steady permeation of low earning in both urban and rural settings has created a chronically challenging existence for otherwise hard-working families across the state.

Too often, the difference between meeting or missing basic needs can be as little as a few hundred dollars and, today, the added reality of inflation clearly adds additional pressure to the gaps between rising costs and stagnant income. Poverty is an anchor, limiting a family’s ability to afford the most basic of human needs and affecting practically every effort to improve conditions. Without decent and reliable transportation or fuel, securing better employment is limited, especially when most low-paying jobs offer no time off for personal matters or job searches. Without preventative healthcare and regular checkups, illnesses can be more severe and frequent.

A new project from The Harkin Institute, launching early in 2023, is designed to alleviate financial stresses on low-income workers. UpLift- The Central Iowa Basic Income Pilot modeled after a successful program created at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, will provide a $500 monthly stipend to 110 low-income families or individuals over a two-year period.

“Poverty is a chronic obstacle,” said Ashley Ezzio, Lead Programmer of UpLift, “Month upon month of limited income in the face of steady-to-rising financial obligations impacts a family’s ability to simply survive.”

Michael Berger, the other Programmer of the project, added, “When twenty five percent of central Iowans are spending more than a third of their income on housing, there’s not much room for food, child care or basic medical care.”

Researchers are currently in the process of choosing participants for the program. Participants must reside in Dallas, Polk or Warren Counties, have at least one dependent (up to the age of 25 years) and have a household income of up to 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI).

Participants will be free to use the $500 stipend however they choose to meet basic household needs. Similar projects have shown that recipients benefit by:

  • Reducing month-to-month income fluctuations
  • Enabling the ability to find better full-time employment
  • Improving physical and mental health
  • Increasing the ability to participate in quality-of-life activities
  • Improving response to unexpected emergencies
  • Reducing engagement in the child welfare system

Researchers will track how participants use their additional income each month and measure the impacts the stipend has on the health and well-being of family members.

Additionally, a random control study will compare outcomes from those receiving the monthly stipend to 140 individuals who receive no monthly payment.

Results of similar projects conducted elsewhere give researchers cause for optimism with the Iowa-based program. Successful models have shown improvements in overall community health, requiring fewer medical response resources because more families have improved access to healthcare-related resources. Researchers have also found multi-generational impacts as adults can finally make choices that meet family needs and create a more positive and healthier environment for children, allowing them to better prosper into adulthood.

“What other projects have shown is that even the smallest boost in regular income can make a vast difference for a family,” Berger said. “Participants aren’t looking for handouts. They just need paths to greater financial stability and, hopefully, prosperity.”

Ezzio added, “Nobody chooses to live in poverty. I hope that projects like UpLift can help more people better understand what a trap poverty can be and the importance of providing ways for families to work their ways upward.”

Too frequently, the assumption that poverty is an urban issue prevails and, over time, the economic conditions in rural areas are overlooked or ignored. Participants selected for this project are hard-working Iowans who tend to be stuck in low wage situations. They aren’t able to look for better opportunity because they can’t get away from their current, often low-paying, jobs. Or, if better employment is within reach, many fear what is known as benefit cliffs where they may get more money for their work but in the process lose other benefits such as child care, health care assistance or affordable housing. In such cases, individuals will sacrifice the long-term benefit of a higher paying job for the other, near term, benefits.

This program is designed to provide enough of an economic cushion to allow recipients to maintain better paycheck-to-paycheck bridges and create the ‘room’ needed to secure a more sustainable household budget.

Researchers also hope to gain a better understanding of where to invest private and public funds in order to build and maintain healthier and more prosperous communities. For more information on this innovative program, contact:

Address: 2800 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311

Phone: (515) 271-3592

Fax Number: (515) 271-3631


Office Hours: Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.