On January 23rd, Sean Kline, Director of the San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment, spoke at a Questions & Answers event where he discussed his ideas for universal basic income (UBI) pilots in San Francisco, as well as other cities across the United States.


Kline was hosted by Jim Pugh, the co-director of the Universal Income Project, and they spoke at the Covo center in San Francisco.

“We’re at a galvanizing moment for cities to think more creatively about how they can generate revenue for really progressive policies,” Kline said. His speech focused on implementing basic income projects in cities in part because, “there’s a real appetite to do more at the city level.”

His focus at the city level is in part a response to the criticism of basic income projects: that they represent what Kline called a “Trojan horse that would or could eliminate other crucial social safety nets either in one fell swoop or through a paper cuts.”

Kline responded to this critique that we should not view UBI as a wholesale transformative policy that would immediately replace other social welfare programs. Instead, he spoke about a variety of “incremental paths” for UBI that could start small and grow. In this way, UBI could build on already existing programs that are already functioning and accepted.

To illustrate this point, Kline cited the Alaskan Citizen’s Dividend and the related Pension Fund in Norway, which both give a portion of oil profits back to the people. He said that even social security is a form of an income grant for a portion of the population. Kline claimed that a transition to basic income could build on these already-established programs and grow. “There are a lot of things that don’t have to sound quite so radical that we can build on,” he said.

Kline is currently searching for funding sources to implement city-level basic income experiments. The specifics of his proposals and their funding possibilities are still being considered and negotiated with potential funders.  Currently, the Universal Income Project is funded  by the Roosevelt Institute and the Citizens Engagement Laboratory.

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