Inside Los Angeles' guaranteed basic income program, biggest in the country

The program officially began paying out money in January

Los Angeles spearheaded the largest guaranteed income pilot program last year, offering low-income families up to $1,000 a month for a year – no strings attached. 

The program – dubbed the Basic Income Guaranteed: Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot (BIG LEAP) – launched in October and is offering unconditional, monthly payments to about 3,000 households that supplement the existing welfare programs. There are no restrictions on how the money can be spent.

In order to qualify, applicants are required to live in the City of Los Angeles, be at least 18 years old, have an income at or below the federal poverty level, have at least one dependent minor or be pregnant and have experienced financial or medical hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


The federal poverty level depends on household size. In 2022, a four-person household earning less than $26,500 would fall under the poverty line. There are an estimated two out of 10 residents in the City of Los Angeles who are affected by poverty – 30% of whom are children, according to a website for the program.

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"The relentless poverty experienced by too many Angelenos emerges out of a lack of financial resources, not a lack of judgment," the website said. "Employment alone cannot always break the cycle of poverty, and research has consistently demonstrated that direct cash aid is a powerful tool for ensuring greater stability for vulnerable Americans." 

Los Angeles City Council members allocated nearly $40 million to the program, which South LA Councilman Curren Price – who spearheaded the program – described as "a life-changing initiative." Funding for the program comes from taxpayers as well as budget cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Applications opened in October and closed on Nov. 7. Recipients were chosen at random from eligible candidates by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania. The program officially went into effect in mid-January.

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Aerial view of the business district in Downtown of Los Angeles in background from Lincoln Heights neighborhood.

"It's going to be a lifeline, and it's an opportunity to move beyond poverty, we hope," Price told Fox 11 Los Angeles. "It's going to be a grand experiment, the largest one in our country so far."


The trend toward universal income goes beyond Los Angeles, however: There is a coalition of mayors across the country that has committed to exploring direct, recurring cash payments to community members. The group, known as the "Mayors for a Guaranteed Income," was launched by Stockton, Calif., Mayor Michael Tubbs in early 2019. So far, there are 60 mayors in the program advocating, and starting programs for, guaranteed income.

There are at least 33 cities and towns currently offering some type of universal income for residents, according to a December analysis by Business Insider.