Podcast: Mayors for a Guaranteed Income with Michael Tubbs

Posted on June 22, 2021

Michael Tubbs - GovLove 2

Michael Tubbs

Michael Tubbs
Special Adviser for Economic Mobility and Opportunity
Office of the Governor, State of California

Ending economic insecurity. Michael Tubbs, Special Adviser for Economic Mobility and Opportunity to California Governor Gavin Newsom, joined the podcast to talk about guaranteed income. He shared his path to becoming one of the youngest mayors in America and the programs he implemented to try and end poverty in Stockton, California. He also discussed how he helped create Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and their partnership with the Center for Guaranteed Income at the University of Pennsylvania.

Host: Toney Thompson

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Mayors for a Guaranteed Income

Center for Guaranteed Income Research 

Former Stockton Mayor Michael D. Tubbs Named Special Advisor for Economic Mobility and Opportunity

$500 payments as part of experimental universal basic income program tested in upstate New York

Episode Transcript

Ben Kittelson  00:00

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Toney Thompson  00:53

Coming to you from Durham, North Carolina, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. I’m Toney Thompson, your Gov Love co host for today’s episode. On today’s episode, we’ll be talking with Michael Tubbs. Michael Tubbs is the former mayor of Stockton, California. At the time of his election at the age of 26, Michael became the nation’s youngest Mayor for a city of 100,000 plus residents. During his time as an elected official. Michael championed several initiatives targeted at Violence Intervention, poverty reduction, and workforce development. Michael is the founder for mayor’s for a guaranteed income and is currently an economic mobility and opportunity advisor for California’s governor Gavin Newsom. Michael, thanks for joining us, welcome to Gov Love. 

Michael Tubbs  01:37

Thank you so much for having me. 

Toney Thompson  01:38

Yes, we love it. So Michael, like we do with all of our with all of our guests, we do a lightning round of three questions. So the first question that we have for you, Michael is as a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Michael Tubbs  01:51

I wanted to be a basketball player. 

Toney Thompson  01:52

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. What position? 

Michael Tubbs  01:57

I always went to Michael Jordan was the guy. Always wanted to be six foot six. 

Toney Thompson  02:02

Absolutely. I love it. That is the player to aspire to. Absolutely, for sure. Michael, what are you currently reading nowadays?

Michael Tubbs  02:11

I am reading, I just finished, didn’t just finish. I read my wife’s book, the three mothers about the mothers or Dr. King, Malcolm X and James Baldwin. I just picked up three books for the Summer. Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford. It was a memoir of hers. Um, the new Clint Smith’s book about sort of reckoning with slave monuments. It was like a New York Times bestseller. And then my dear friend, Dr. Elizabeth Hinton wrote a book called America on ire. He talks about these protests we’ve seen aren’t these one off events or our continuum of urban rebellion against over policing. So we’re really excited about digging into those three this summer.

Toney Thompson  02:49

All right, those are great. I’m gonna have to definitely check some of those out for my own library. And the last question, Michael, what is your most controversial non political opinion? 

Michael Tubbs  03:01

Man, most my opinions don’t feel controversial. Non political, I think everything’s political. 

Toney Thompson  03:11

So for mine, for example, you know, I consider I consider burritos type of sandwich, you know.

Michael Tubbs  03:18

But I think most of you agree with me that red vines are superior to Twizzlers. There’s like, no question about it.

Toney Thompson  03:25

You know, my wife would agree with you. I grew up eating Twizzlers.

Michael Tubbs  03:30

Oh, you’re one of those weird people. 

Toney Thompson  03:34

We will move on, we’ll move on. So I want to actually get into some of the questions that I wanted to speak with you about today, Michael. So I can you, you know, talk our listeners through your journey ending up in local government, first as a city council member and then as mayor of Stockton.

Michael Tubbs  03:51

Yeah, born and raised in Stockton, born in the south part of the city. I’m tied to a political family. In fact, my father still incarcerated. So government, we need to sit around the table debating politics or policy. Right? Government wasn’t a factor, right? It was always negative, right? It’s always negative. And then lucky enough to get a scholarship to Stanford. While there are realized that so much of what I experienced growing up was actually a result of government policies, from redlining to divestment to over policing, etc. And that’s how I became fascinated with this idea about policy and also, then my junior year I interned in the White House for, under President Obama. My job was work with Mayors and Councils and then I saw how government was really just people and people no different than you and me who are making decisions about all of our stuff and all the rules you have to live by. And I’ve always been someone who does not like being on the sidelines, who does not like guessing or pontificate I’d like to be in the game. I want to be in the heat of it. I wanted to know why the decision was made. After my cousin was a victim of a homicide and murdered in Stockton, that’s when I decided to, um, to run for office, for city council. I had no idea what I was doing. Ended up winning and then spent the rest of my 20s in local government.

Toney Thompson  05:11

Yeah, safe to say you figured, you figured some things out? 

Michael Tubbs  05:14

A little bit. 

Toney Thompson  05:15

Yeah, absolutely. So where, Michael, did you first learn about the concept of, you know, guaranteed income? It’s a concept that I think more and more people in local government are obviously, you know, becoming aware of, especially with, you know, mayors for a guaranteed income during the pilots all across the nation. But why was, you know, this policy idea important to you as a, to pilot, when you became mayor?

Michael Tubbs  05:39

Well, I am just 100% dedicated to the abolition of poverty, I just think poverty is the most barbaric, archaic, dumb thing we have in society so it’s like, how do we get rid of it? I first came to the realization through, in college, studying Dr. King, reading where do we go from here chaos or community, where he talked about this idea of a guaranteed income. And for me, what was important or interesting about that was that I spent my whole childhood reenacting Dr. King’s speeches at church, and not one reckoned with his sort of views on guaranteed income. I thought that was interesting. I thought after reading it, it’d be interesting to be part of the conversation about sort of, can this happen? should this happen? And I had no idea that just a couple short years later, I would be in the thick of it, in the middle of it. But that’s where where I learned about the idea.

Toney Thompson  06:28

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think also, you know, with guaranteed income becoming more aware, in local government circles, this more of a more people are starting to realize, you know, poverty is, you know, potentially also a policy choice as well that we have the ability to, to impact that. And you kind of touched this in your last answer, but, you know, can you tell our listeners the difference between universal basic income and guaranteed income? I think, you know, that term is also getting thrown around a bit. But there is there is there is a difference. So, could you tell our listeners why you’re advocating specifically for guaranteed income?

Michael Tubbs  07:07

Yeah. So I think the difference between universal basic income and a guaranteed income is a guaranteed income, it’s primarily focused on the abolition of poverty. It’s, it’s targeted in some way to a lot of people, but to everyone who needs it, while universal basic income goes to everyone, including those who may not need it in the same way. And I think that’s the major difference. But I mean, I’m supportive of both I just think politically, a guaranteed income is there, what’s feasible now. And I also think that in terms of my own sort of interest, I’m interested in abolishing poverty, and guaranteed income is focused on that. So that’s sort of where I where I lean in. But I also think a guaranteed income makes it easier for us to eventually get to a universal basic income. 

Toney Thompson  07:52

Gotcha, gotcha, that absolutely makes sense. Thank you for clarifying, you know, that difference as we continue in our conversation as we have these discussions in local government. So you know, now I want to talk about, you know, your actual, you know, guaranteed income pilot that you, that you elevated in Stockton in the the seed pilot. So how were you able to bring that conception to light and what were the results of that pilot?

Michael Tubbs  08:18

Yeah. So we started out with a kind of internal staff group that was looking at sort of an answer to my question, how do we get rid of poverty in the city of Stockton, they came back with a guaranteed income. The next week, I ended up at a conference with Natalie Foster from the Economic Security Project. As she talked about how she and the Economic Security Project were looking for a city to pilot guaranteed income and we struck up an agreement that we would do it in Stockton, spent a year designing and figured out the best way to do it and raise philanthropic capital for it. And by February 2019, we had begin disbursement.

Toney Thompson  08:59

Wow, that’s amazing. And so what were some of the, what were some of the results of that pilot. What were, for the people who who did receive that, you know, guaranteed income over that period of time, how did you see their lives impacted by that?

Michael Tubbs  09:11

Yeah, there were really three or four big, big, big, big outtakes. Number one was this idea that a guaranteed income did not stop people from working. In fact, a lot of people to move from part time to full time work two times more than those who didn’t, and also be two times less likely to be unemployed. We also saw health impacts, those who received the guaranteed income were less stressed, like less anxious, and better able to be parents and partners and neighbors. And we also saw that a guaranteed income surprisingly-not- reduced income volatility, that when people had money, they were able to cope with unexpected challenges, whether it’s pandemic or a flat tire.

Toney Thompson  09:50

Yeah, I mean, that’s great. I mean, what you’re talking about, poverty reduction, those are some of the three big things you want to see, right? So being able to make more money more consistently, you know, better health. less income volatility definitely helps, you know, three factors that help towards you know, getting out of poverty. So, yeah, absolutely. Um, so, you so you’re nationally known for, you know, that pilot. I mean, obviously, you know, being one of the youngest mayors, in you know, American history got you a lot of national attention. And then, you know, following up with the guaranteed income pilot, but you know, you worked with a lot of other pilots and programs during your time as mayor, can you can you tell our listeners about some of these other programs that you were championing during your time?

Michael Tubbs  10:32

Yeah, I’ve always been someone who wanted to have my cake and eat it too. So I wasn’t, I used to get frustrated in fact that often we want to talk about what’s guaranteed income because you know we’re firing on all cylinders here. So one of  the programs I’m most proud of we started in Stockton was our gun violence reduction programs. We had two model ceasefire and advanced peace. They’re both really focused on identifying the folks most likely to be victims and perpetrators of violent crime, ensuring they have the resources they need to not shoot, to, because it turns out that those who commit gun violence in most of our communities are also most likely be housing insecure, food insecure, knows where that’s been shot. They shot themselves. They live very precarious lives. And we saw in 2018, and 2019, a 40% reduction in shootings. And in fact, in the entire 2000s, 2018-2019 were the only two years in Stockton, where we had back to back years, with less than 50, less than 40 homicides. And that’s it’s significant, because historically, stock has been the state leader in shootings and homicides. And that was also done in the context of our population growing, right? So even per capita, it’s even lower than even though it’s lower than apples to apples comparison way as well. In terms of the education stuff, we started. two really big initiatives. One was Stockton scholars, which was a universal scholarship program that’s still going on, so that for the next decade, every single kid who graduates from our largest school district is guaranteed a four year two year trade school scholarship. And then we also marry that with child savings accounts. During my last year as mayor, where every low income student in Stockton was guaranteed a $500 seed account to start a child savings account by the time they graduate. It can be matched with sort of that something at the end and something at the beginning to really double a force multiplier. We also started something called Stockton Service Corps, which was a way for students who got our scholarships to come back to start to work in our schools, as tutors as mentors, as AmeriCorps members. It was also a way for us to provide sort of cradle to career programming alongside the schools with Stockton residents. So those were sort of, and then we also did a bunch of stuff in the climate space with sort of centering the community, thinking through green jobs and green economy, etc. That’s some of the work I’m proudest of.

Toney Thompson  12:59

Yeah, that’s, I mean that’s, those are a lot of great programs, a lot of great work. You know, going back to your point about poverty reduction, I mean, those are some amazing, you know, programs you were able to put in place. Michael, I ,the next question I have for you, it’s more philosophical. But I really, this was one of the first questions that I thought of when you agreed to come on, as, you know, this tension around, I guess, federalism and who should be responsible for what and government versus federal versus state versus local government? And, you know, your work in poverty reduction, I hear this conversation a lot, it’s like, you know, who should be most responsible for, you know, the stuff, you know, local government, should they be the people who are leading this charge or the state or the federal government? And now that you, you know, you have been a council member, you have been mayor, and now you’re working, you know, with, you know, Governor Gavin Newsom as a economical building and opportunity advisor. Where did where do you feel like the brunt of you know, poverty reduction efforts should lay in, in the three kind of levels? 

Michael Tubbs  14:07

Yeah, I think I in terms of a guaranteed income, that has to be a federal policy. I think in terms of, so I think the federal government sort of the unit of scale, I think sort of state and locals can pilot, push, and support and implement sort of federal dictates but because the federal government could deficit spend, they have that, in my opinion, they have that responsibility.

Toney Thompson  14:29

Yeah, absolutely. That thank you for, for sharing that. So now kind of want to talk about you know, MGI, so many of your, for MGI and many of your programs as mayor of Stockton, you leverage a lot of private and nonprofit dollars to kind of get these pilots and these programs done. And, you know, local governments that are constantly resource constrained and challenged, you know, they try to balance you know, the resources they have adverse the things that they want to do. Do you see leveraging more private funding as kind of a new governance models? Since it seemed like you relied on it so heavily? Or was it simply a means to an end for you to kind of get a lot of work done in a short amount of time?

Michael Tubbs  15:16

Yeah, I mean, when I took over as Mayor we had just rebounded from bankruptcy. We didn’t have any money to do anything really, besides pay bills and pay staff salaries. So anything above that I knew of it takes some philanthropic funding and also knew to do kind of big and bold things, provide proof of concepts, make the case for government funding with the philanthropic funding first, but I mean, if I was still Mayor now with this millions of dollars coming in from ARP money we could do even more thing, so I think for me, philanthropy is necessary, but not sufficient. Philanthropy is actually to me admittance of policy failures, it’s ways to kind of provide stopgap measures, which should never be the end goal in and of itself, at least in terms of governance, in terms of like being being an elected official, but it can definitely help and can definitely move, definitely help move things faster and get things done. 

Toney Thompson  16:07

Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And I think it you know, correct me if I’m wrong, but kind of what your goal is doing for MGI is you’re taking, you know, this money to, you know, do proof of concept of pilot so hopefully, the federal government can, or state and federal governments can, you know, take this on themselves, is that correct?

Michael Tubbs  16:24

And we’ve already seen momentum. So in California, the state government is putting in $35 million dollars to support guaranteed income programs throughout the state. 

Toney Thompson  16:32

Oh, wow. 

Michael Tubbs  16:33

In California, the city of Los Angeles is using government dollars to provide a guaranteed income pilot, same with Los Angeles County, other cities throughout the country are using some of the ARP money with private funds to create these guaranteed income programs. So the momentum is really building and I’m incredibly proud.

Toney Thompson  16:49

Yeah, that’s amazing. So what inspired you, or how did you create MGI? Like what after you after you, I think you created while you were mayor, so you know, what inspires you to create, create the organization and, and talk and talk our listeners through how you kind of got it off the ground to the point it is today?

Michael Tubbs  17:10

Yeah, it really started with, since we had began piloting guaranteed income, so many Mayors had questions and were interested and I just didn’t have the time to really engage as I wanted to, but I knew that when the Stockton pilot was done, the momentum had to continue. And that it couldn’t just die with us. So I always had in my mind that in 2020, this was before knowing there would be a pandemic and kind of a national reckoning on race, but I always knew in 2020, we’ll begin looking at sort of how do we create something. And then with the pandemic, and with sort of the Black Lives Matter protests, it became very clear to me that my Mayor friends, were looking for something to meet the moment, my mayor, friends were, were looking to see what could they do to be responsive to what they were seeing with COVID-19, but also to what we saw in the protests in the streets. And for me, it was a realization that Dr. King wrote where we go from here in 1967. At that time, there were over 200 protests in this country, around racial injustice, around police brutality, around racism, against white supremacy. And he saw that in talking about the guaranteed income, right? So I said, in this moment, let’s continue that mantle. And I am blessed that, it’s probably weird, but many of my best friends are actually Mayors now. So e talk all the damn time. So It’s just a matter or texting them and say, Hey, I think I got some funding to support you doing some guaranteed income work, let’s do this together, we can really elevate the conversation. And we started with 11 founding mayors, some of my favorite mayors in the country. And now we’re at 55, 56 mayors and counting. I’m so incredibly proud of that work.

Toney Thompson  18:54

That’s amazing. And so, you know, all these, all these pilots, you know, 50 plus pilots, they’re not all they’re not all doing a pilot around the same thing specifically. So, you know what is the research methodology that you know, MGI is trying to, to implement and what are you trying to see doing these kind of different?

Michael Tubbs  19:14

I am definitely not a researcher. Even those classes in college, I’m like okay, just tell me what the data says. But we have a center for guaranteed income Research at the University of Pennsylvania ran by Dr. Stasia. And Dr. Amy, Castro Baker and Martin-West and Sukhi Samra, who runs kind of Stockton pilot, she also helped co-found it with them. And that’s sort of the evaluation arm of MGI and it’s really like the evaluation for the pilots. So they have like scales and measures that even though all the pilots are giving money to different people that are measuring similar things around income volatility, around health impacts, and around employment. Then there’s some other specifications with some some of the other other pilots running, those are the three broad strokes.

Toney Thompson  20:03

Gotcha. And and what is the, after all these pilots are done, what is what is the next step for MGI after you know, you’ve got collected the data?

Michael Tubbs  20:15

Yeah, we want to have we want to have policy, right? So I think the part of it was using mayors because mayors are such effective messengers. And such sort of champions that can help progress a conversation and move a conversation. So we thought it was important that we that we had mayors lead in so using them as advocates to really advocate for policy is really the goal.

Toney Thompson  20:37

Yeah, absolutely. Um, last couple questions for you, Michael. Are there any specific pilots that are coming online or being conducted right now that you’re most excited about?

Michael Tubbs  20:50

It’s like asking who’s your favorite child, right? I think every time it’s a new pilot, it’s a new mayor, it’s anew community, it’s beautiful. I’m so proud of the way the mayors are really leading and really pushing us to be our better angels as a country.

Toney Thompson  21:06

Yeah, that’s great. And if there’s a, you know, local government out there who’s listening to this, and they want to get involved, you know, potentially doing a pilot with MGI. How could they do that?

Michael Tubbs  21:17

Um, you have the email info@mayorsforgi.org. But to your point, we are kind of at capacity for for pilots in terms of our evaluation capacity, that’s what we’re down to help support and you really leverage the mayor as the voice for sort of the policy piece.

Toney Thompson  21:34

That’s totally cool. Anything else you would like to share Michael, for our listeners today? 

Michael Tubbs  21:39

No, that’s it. 

Toney Thompson  21:40

That’s great. And the last question I have for you, you know, if you could be Gov Love DJ for a day, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode? 

Michael Tubbs  21:51

Either, I think it’s got to be a Jay Cole album. So, Hunger on the Hillside.

Toney Thompson  21:56

Yeah. All right. We’ll see if we can make that happen. Thank you so much for Michael, we really appreciate it. That ends our episode for today. Thanks for coming on and talking with me. For our listeners. You can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast, and we’re on all your favorite podcast subscription services. Please subscribe to Gov Love through your favorite podcast servers and leave us review so more people know that Gov Love is the podcast for local government topics. And if you have any stories, if you have a story for Gov Love, we want to hear it. Send us a message on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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