Episode 19: Guaranteed Income and America’s Poverty Choice
References and resources
What are the challenges that we see as we look to expand from a pilot to a nationwide program that is really taking care of everybody, and Black women in particular?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (00:14):
Racism and MAGA Republicanism.
Solana Rice (00:16):
Jeremie Greer (00:17):
Mm. Mm-mm-mm. Straight to the point.
Solana Rice (00:25):
Welcome to Racism Is Profitable, a podcast about the role of racism in our economy. I am Solana Rice, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Liberation in a Generation Action and I am joined by my Co-Founder, Co-Executive Director, Jeremie Greer.
Jeremie Greer (00:48):
What’s up? It’s been a while, folks.
Solana Rice (00:52):
It’s been a minute.
Jeremie Greer (00:53):
We’ve been on a little hiatus. It’s been a minute, but we’re back. We’re back. And the government is still running.
Solana Rice (00:59):
Jeremie Greer (00:59):
Surprise, surprise because again, while we were gone, the federal government went through its annual exercise. Really not even annual. It’s almost become like two, three times a year-
Solana Rice (01:12):
Jeremie Greer (01:14):
… it seems where they, Congress flirt was shutting down the government. They have obligation to pass appropriation bills to fund the government and every couple times a year it seems they come around and they say, well, maybe we won’t do that. And then they go all the way up until the-
Solana Rice (01:30):
The very last minute.
Jeremie Greer (01:31):
… deadline. The very last minute, even Saturday and overnight sessions and then they say, “Ah, we found an agreement and the government’s going to stay open.” But the thing was, there’s some real consequences with this one. Usually it’s consequences list. They just do it and the government starts running again. But this time there are some consequences for particular people and this time Kevin McCarthy was voted out as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Solana Rice (02:00):
He caught that boot.
Jeremie Greer (02:04):
He caught one. The funny thing is he was already on thin ice because remember when they elected him earlier in the year, they were like, they went through-
Solana Rice (02:11):
Hemming, hawing, hemming, hawing.
Jeremie Greer (02:14):
… a ridiculous number of votes. I can’t even remember how many votes, but a ridiculous number of votes and he didn’t have the votes. And all the Democrats voted against him this time. This time the Democrats were like, “You on your own, bro. We ain’t voting. Whatever. Whatever you,” and they voted him out. Solana, you’ve been tracking this? Any thoughts on what the hell this is about?
Solana Rice (02:42):
Well, I am particularly, I watched AOCs explanation of the rundown and it was interesting to think of-
Jeremie Greer (02:53):
AOC drops the facts, so that’s a good source. That’s a good source.
Solana Rice (03:00):
And I can take it with a grain of salt as well. And this idea that he had made a lot of promises to people that he just hadn’t fulfilled and really oddly was like, “You know what? Any one of y’all could take me out. And so if one of y’all want to take me out, fine, fine. I will exit. I will vacate.” I kind of… That’s unusual. I feel like you can say one thing at the beginning and then be like, “I didn’t say that. I don’t know what you mean. Oh, you can’t really be against me being speaker. No way.”
But it doesn’t help all the chaos that ensued.
Jeremie Greer (03:48):
Solana Rice (03:50):
It’s admirable on one end and on the other end it’s like, “Well now what are we in for?” Yeah, it’s the devil we don’t know, but we have so many other things to focus on and worry about then these shenanigans.
Jeremie Greer (04:11):
Yeah, stuff is hurting. And it’s a real contrast from the way that Nancy Pelosi operated as speaker where, yo, fall in line.
Solana Rice (04:22):
Jeremie Greer (04:23):
You did not cross Nancy. It was like fall in line or you’re not going to like what happened. And so watching this chaos ensue with this lack of leadership is just real shocking because Nancy was like, and she had her lieutenants like Hakeem Jeffries, the current minority leader in Congress, and yo, you got in line and you did what it was, and there wasn’t any of this foolishness or shenanigans while she was running things.
Solana Rice (05:01):
So two things, I think one, the chaos is problematic because it does keep us from focusing on actually advancing policies and being able to call out things. And the budget, the government shutdown always does incite fear for folks who depend on government resources. People that are receiving social security checks and healthcare and benefits and things like that and jobs.
Every time one of these ensues, it’s like, “Ah!” It does create stress. And our representatives try to do a great job in saying, “Don’t worry, this is what it means,” and providing all of the information. But between the chaos and the fragility, the seeming fragility of the constancy of our government or our governance, it can create a sense of we can’t depend on the federal government and the federal government is not something that is for us. And in the end, that’s a mechanism for keeping racism profitable as well.
Jeremie Greer (06:24):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean the chaos is, so if you want status quo, you don’t want things to change. You want the billionaires to continue to get their tax breaks. You want people of color to continue to have to fight and struggle just to get by. This chaos suits you because the chaos feeds the status quo. Because in order to change all of these things, we need changes to happen from Congress.
We need new policies. We need broad, big, bold policies that center Black people, that center immigrant folks in a way that they’ve never been centered before. And that requires Congress to act. And this chaos is what holds us back from acting. I think you called it too. It’s like especially for Black folks, we know they already ain’t really trusting these folks up here to begin with and then people see all this madness and they’re like, “Yeah-
Solana Rice (07:15):
Jeremie Greer (07:16):
… There they go again. They ain’t going to do nothing. They ain’t going to do nothing for us.” So if you are invested in the status quo, this chaos actually fits you and it serves your agenda. And it’s kind of the point of Trump, right?
Solana Rice (07:34):
Jeremie Greer (07:35):
He needs this to feed this chaos.
Solana Rice (07:40):
Well, we have on today’s pod Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is definitely a departure from the chaos. As a matter of fact has spent her career focusing on public service. She is the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress and we have had the pleasure of working with her on many issues to center the needs of Black women and girls. And we’re going to have her on the pod today to talk about her reintroduced bill, the Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act. So hello, welcome to the podcast Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman. How are you doing today?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (08:34):
Well, we’ve got a lot going on here today, being briefed on what’s happening in Israel and making sure that Ukraine isn’t forgotten. Making sure that we recognize that Hamas is, do not conflate Hamas and Palestinians, and that there are people that we need to be protecting that are in Gaza as well.
And then, oh, well, we don’t have any leadership right now in the House of Representatives, so we’re waiting to see what Republicans are going to tell us they’d like to see happen with that regard, so a lot’s happening here on the hill today.
Jeremie Greer (09:09):
Yeah. I wonder if you could, before we get into what we wanted to talk about, which is your work around guaranteed income, but I wonder if you could just talk a bit about what’s it like being in Congress with this chaos around the Speakership and kind of like, I’ll use my words, a leadershipless kind of Republican Party that you’re supposed to work with to get stuff done?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (09:30):
So we’ve actually been experiencing that since January when it took 15 votes to get the speaker elected by the majority in the House of Representatives, meaning they’ve spent their time, wasting our time doing just damaging legislation that’s never going to see the light of day, deflecting from the needs of people all over this country and just manufacturing all kinds of things to deal with, like trying to impeach a president for stuff that wasn’t even on the books when he was president.
So it’s been chaotic from January now as a result of the vacation vacating the seat. We don’t know where we’re going. I mean we’ve heard a couple of candidates, none of them, neither one of those candidates are really acceptable for their own personal reasons and political reasons and because they’ve not shown leadership and bipartisanship while in Congress, we think that the people of this country need us to work in a more bipartisan way. And in order to do that, then they’ve got, the Republican majority has got to realize that there are people that have greater expectations of them than they’ve demonstrated the capacity or the desire or the ability to meet.
So right now we’re in a whole wait, let’s see. We’ve got Ukraine issues to have to deal with. We’ve got the whole war with Israel and Hamas that we have to deal with and we need to have some regular order in the House of Representatives, so we need everybody to pray for us.
Solana Rice (11:22):
Yes, yes. Will do. Will do, absolutely. I am struck by your experience in Congress and politics. Often we talk about what we need to create is called a liberation economy. It’s an economy that we’ve never seen. Our movement must achieve things that we’ve never done before.
You have a series of firsts in your career. You’re the first Black woman to serve as majority leader, in New Jersey as General Assembly, as the chair of the New Jersey Democratic Committee, the first Black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress, so what does it take to achieve things that have never been done before?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (12:08):
I think it takes a close relationship with your God and to listen to how you are being moved, pushed, put in place, found by others who saw something in you and wanted to push you into another direction or give you greater authority or platform. I think you’d got to be willing to take that risk because it means you’re being taken out of your comfort zone. Because I didn’t have any desire to be in Congress. I reluctantly ran for the assembly to succeed my father who had died and had given his life in service as an assemblyman in the state of New Jersey, was my way of keeping him alive and honoring him.
I don’t know how the then gubernatorial candidate decided that I should be his next chairman of the party, and then I become the majority leader of the assembly. And then I have people who tell me I need to run for Congress. And so I think that that’s a calling on my life and I had to be willing to step out, make sure I had my family with me, make sure I was hearing the right message, and then be ready.
And then when you find yourself as a Black woman put into these spaces, I knew I had to be double, triple ready. I had to be more prepared, I had to be stronger, I had to be more confident, and I needed to be grounded in what I believed. And so if people are going to select me or elect me, they needed to know what they were going to get. And that’s kind of like what happened to me.
Jeremie Greer (14:05):
Wow. That’s great. And we’ve had the just privilege to work with you and your staff since being in Congress. You are the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls. And earlier this year we worked with you to develop a report and we’ll put it in the show notes, an Economy for All, building a Black Women Best Legislative Agenda. And it was just great working with you on that.
And there’s a lot of important policies in that report that really should be, we believe all of them should be in front of the Congress. And we’ll talk about one of those in a moment. But I wonder if you could talk a bit about why focus on Black women, why the real laser focus on Black women?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (14:51):
So we forever hear this cliche about all boats rising. And so that’s about what this is. If you look at the Black women, there are significant impact on the wellness of our communities, our states, and our countries. If you look at the amount of responsibility that they’ve had to be either the single wage earner or the single parent, how they’ve had to show up to protect their kids in school and in communities, how we’ve had to deal with the whole criminal justice system, how Black women have suffered in their communities and even in their relationships.
And how we have, in spite of all that, we have gone to college, gone to trade school, become educated, equipped, ready, brilliant and everything, and brighten all that good stuff, but still no one, the system would not treat us equally. So while we have all of this, these attributes and work very hard, we find ourselves at the lowest end of the economic realm. And so why is that? Why are there so many barriers for educated Black women or just Black women in general? These barriers are artificially created. And so an amazing, brilliant woman, Janelle Jones-
Solana Rice (16:26):
Jeremie Greer (16:29):
Yeah, Janelle Jones.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (16:31):
… yeah, came up with this sort of vision. Well, look, if you really want to make things better, then go to where the most vulnerable lie, direct your attention and your solutions around eliminating the barriers that are preventing that person from moving ahead, that have nothing to do with being ready, willing, and able, but are systemic in nature or resource related in nature. If you eliminate those, then you create an opportunity for all boats to be lifted because if they correct something for me, then the other folks are going to get the benefit of it.
Solana Rice (17:13):
Jeremie Greer (17:13):
Yeah. I love the framing around that. It’s not a us/ them, right? It’s like you-
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (17:20):
You help everybody.
Jeremie Greer (17:20):
… help Black women help everybody. It’s not a why not my group or this group or that group or it’s a real focus on you help Black women, everyone will benefit. And that’s what-
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (17:31):
And the thing is that while you’re helping everyone, you’re hurting no one.
Jeremie Greer (17:37):
Solana Rice (17:37):
One of the policies in the report, particularly uplifts guaranteed income, and you just introduced a bill called the Guaranteed Income Pilot Program Act of 2023. Why is this so important in this moment? You just mentioned all the things that we have at our door worldwide, but why is guaranteed income so important in this moment and for Black women in particular?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (18:10):
So I reintroduced it, I introduced it first in 2020, and this is my thinking behind it. And actually there are studies supporting that this is a good thing to do. And we saw the benefit of some of this not played out necessarily as guaranteed income, but during the pandemic when we did the child tax credit and we sent some other money out to communities with little strings attached to it.
And so the premise is, I mean, first of all, poverty is a choice. We can eliminate poverty because we can make billionaires, billionaires. We can do all kinds of tax incentives and tax breaks and tax this and loopholes that to make the very, very, very wealthy, wealthier. During the pandemic, we gave out PPP money to keep businesses, small businesses, some of which even members of Congress benefited from and we sent out money to communities and to families and to women to put food on the table and childcare and child tax credits and things of that nature.
And what we saw was that that eliminated a good portion of poverty as it related to our children. And so people didn’t waste money, they didn’t go out and do things. They spent it on the things that they needed to make sure that their families were sheltered and fed and protected.
So seems to me to be a no-brainer. If people have more money, they can spend that money to make sure that their families are healthy, their communities are safe, their shelters are decent. Nobody wants to be homeless. Nobody wants to live in shelters. Nobody wants to be hungry. Nobody needs to figure out whether or not they can feed themselves or take their medicine. And that’s not necessary in the United States of America.
And so we’ve seen some isolated projects where money has been given out to certain families in certain communities, like in Stockton, and then there has been studies behind it, what they used it for, and they used it to elevate their quality of life and that’s it. And so the federal government has an obligation to be a good steward of all the taxpayers resources coming in from around the country and to protect every citizen in, every person in this country.
So what does that take? We don’t have a whole bunch of discussion when we’re giving trillion dollar breaks to rich people. So why are we going to have a whole convoluted discussion and argument and debate about how you lift up those who are at the poorest rung? And that’s what guaranteed income is. It is, this is a bill that I know we have to do things incrementally. So we’re looking at 20,000 population. We’re looking at a control group of 10,000. We’re looking at an authorized spending level of something like almost $500 million over a three-year period.
People would be selected by HHS, which would select an academic and scholarly institutions to try to work out the mechanisms here. But these families that would be selected would be given X number of dollars on a monthly basis over that period of time and there would be periodic checks done, studies done, surveys done on how well this is working. And it’s as simple, it is as simple as that.
And so the amount of money a family would get would be linked to the cost of a two bedroom house or apartment in their zip code and that makes sense. So it would change depending upon where it is. We’d like to get a sampling across the country in different areas, and we don’t want anybody determined eligible, or ineligible because he or she is receiving other federal benefits. This is something that is above and beyond what little we’ve already given people, which hasn’t taken them out of poverty in the first doggone place.
Solana Rice (23:12):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s so important to recognize. I really like the idea of being able to afford, having this be tied to being able to afford where you live.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (23:27):
Solana Rice (23:27):
There isn’t a place in this nation where you can earn minimum wage and rent a one bedroom apartment, nowhere. It just doesn’t exist, so that’s really great.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (23:37):
And since we’re mostly focusing on families, we need at least to think about the cost of living in a two bedroom, at least.
Solana Rice (23:44):
Yep, exactly. And I really appreciate the idea that this does not replace our safety net. This is not about, “Oh, we’ll just give people a lump sum and then we can be done.” No, no, no. We’ve whittled away at the safety net for so many years. This cannot be a replacement for that.
Jeremie Greer (24:02):
Yeah, and you said it. It’s a no-brainer. Study after study has shown that how people use money, which we know we’re studying. And I wonder with this bill, it seems like this bill is, part of it is to get at some of the kind of, what I’ll say is wild criticisms of guaranteed income that come. And I wonder if you could talk a bit about what are the challenges that we see as we look to expand from a pilot to a nationwide program that is really taking care of everybody and Black women in particular.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (24:39):
Racism and MAGA republicanism.
Solana Rice (24:41):
Jeremie Greer (24:42):
Mm. Mm-mm-mm-. Straight to the point. Mm-hmm. Yep.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (24:49):
We need to be building a greater external will and voice because there are some people in this country at certain income levels that get what they want without having to do anything. It’s just what you want is what you get, but there are people that we’d like to address the needs of, who need to have people advocating loudly on their behalf.
And so we need to get out of this stereotype that we are unworthy or under worthy or subhuman or whatever, simply because we haven’t had the benefit of the system working on our behest and our behalf for so long. And so in order to do that, we have to have these conversations and academic environments and social justice environments and nonprofit environments, and in the church and every place else, people need to understand that poverty is a choice. It is not something that we have to live with.
And that government has a responsibility to ensure that nobody in this country, not a child, not an adult, not an elderly person, nobody should be forced to live beneath a certain floor, and that floor should be a decent quality of life. Now, we’re not going to all be able to live in six, eight, and 10 bedroom mansions, but we can live in the housing that is safe and sanitary and decent and meets the needs of the family.
We can ensure that we have jobs that pay wages, that we’ll be able to support these families living in decent houses and communities and things of that nature. We have education opportunities that are affordable and accessible for all. This is the United States of America. And I don’t think that we’re asking too much of this country, of this government, of these tax paying dollars that come into this government to be used in that purpose.
Solana Rice (27:20):
Well, thank you Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman. Our last question here is what should listeners know? What should listeners do? You’ve called us to be courageous, be open to the possibilities, to set aside narratives of deservedness, to recognize that we do not have advocates and lobbyists like the moneyed interests do, yet we still deserve representation and all of the greatness and the resources of our governments. What else would you want listeners to take away?
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (28:05):
That Black people who vote change the outcome of elections. That’s how important we are. And so that first and foremost, no matter how mad you might be, you got to get out there and vote and you better pay attention to what the person is saying that you’re thinking about supporting so that you know that your interests are going to be represented.
And so as Black people, we need to be talking to our friends, our churchgoers, our folks in the everywhere, every supermarket. I don’t care wherever, in the family because I found out one of my little cousins hadn’t registered to vote. I’m like, “You’re part of my family. How could you not be registered? You better get registered to vote and you better make sure that you do vote.”
But then we also need to be talking about our allies because we have allies. They say they are our allies, so we need you to be educated on what we’re thinking about, what we’re talking about, and what we’ve determined that we need, not what you determined that we need, but what we’ve determined what we need. And we need you to be using your voice with that message also.
And then we need to be flooding the calls to our Congress and Senate representatives all over the country because you probably have a listenership, a viewership from red states to purple states to blue states. Everybody needs to hear what you think is important. This Guaranteed Income Act is very important. It could change lives, and we need to be able to institute things like that. Not only have a guaranteed income program, I’ve got a guaranteed jobs program.
So there is a spectrum of work that needs to be done, and we need to educate ourselves, speak out, come out, talk to people like me and our staff, and I do have an incredible staff, so thank you for letting me know how good it is to work with them. I’m very blessed. I tell them they’re intentionally selected, but have conversations with us.
Take a look at some of the members that you’re interested in, the kind of legislation that they have in the hopper that you think you can support and work with the member on that as well and then use your connections to get the word out.
Solana Rice (30:53):
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (30:53):
This is all about, I believe, and this is a government of buying for the people. And at the end of the day, if the people would just stay engaged and just understand that their one person participation can change things, then we could really, I think, make a big difference on behalf of those we love and respect and care for so much.
Solana Rice (31:18):
Thank you for your time.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (31:19):
My pleasure. Thank you too.
Solana Rice (31:20):
Thank you for your leadership and your service to our nation.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (31:22):
Thank you very much. Take care. Keep on working. We’ll work together.
Solana Rice (31:26):
Yes. Yes. Yes. More on guaranteed jobs as well.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (31:30):
Solana Rice (31:34):
Thanks for listening. For more information, check out our list of episode resources and visit us at liberationinagenerationaction.org. Shout out to our producer and audio editor, Nino Fernandez, the design team at Trim Tab and the Lib Gen Action Communications team. Like what you heard? Help us make some noise by telling two friends about the Racism Is Profitable podcast. Until next time, y’all. Peace.