Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

New Mexico has been at the forefront of progressive legislation to improve living standards for residents, with New Mexico state lawmakers approving a $15 minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave for workers. The most recent proposal could be one of the most progressive in the country; New Mexico lawmakers may soon debate whether to introduce a universal basic income for residents.

Lawmakers in the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee heard about a pilot program in Santa Fe Monday night. New Mexico House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Javier Martinez was enthusiastic about the programs. “Studies increasingly show that the benefits of a basic income are numerous, and could very well be part of a lasting solution to ending poverty in New Mexico. Families shouldn’t have to work 2 or 3 jobs, and still fail to have enough money to put food on the table or a shelter over their heads. I’m excited to see the results from these two pilots in Las Cruces and Santa Fe,” he said.

The idea of providing financially vulnerable residents with a universal basic income has been considered in many other countries. Kenya has had one of the longest and most stable pilot programs, which has provided 75 cents a day to 6,000 food-insecure recipients. The program has been heralded as a success, especially during the global economic turmoil in the wake of the pandemic. Universal basic income has even been put in practice on a large scale in the U.S. Alaska provides a dividend in the range of $1,000 to every resident from their Permanent Fund Dividend. Alaska residents receive a dividend from the state’s minerals royalties. 

The idea of introducing a universal basic income made it onto the debate floor during a 2020 Democratic debate. Former Democratic candidate Andrew Yang was the foremost advocate of providing citizens with a universal basic income.

Yang has hardly been the first national figure to discuss the idea. In the late 1960s, President Nixon included a universal basic income in a poverty-alleviation program titled Family Assistance Plan. President Nixon’s radical new legislation proposed to provide an annual income of sixteen hundred dollars, including food stamps, to a low-income family of four. The current value of sixteen hundred dollars a year is now almost $11,000. Both Republicans and Democrats opposed the bill, and it failed to make it out of the Senate.

In 2019, New Mexico was ranked 3rd highest in the nation for its poverty rates, with over 18 percent of the population living under the median income. Nearly one in four New Mexican children under 18 years of age (24.9 percent, or about 115,997 children) living in poverty. Santa Fe is currently running a pilot program for 100 residents with families who are under 30, attending college, and have at least one child. Each participant in the program receives a minimum base monthly income of $400. 

City lawmakers in Las Cruces are also discussing the possibility of introducing a guaranteed basic income program for residents as a way to address local poverty, hunger, substance abuse, housing insecurity, child welfare and mental health.