News Release

Flint, Michigan Passes Universal Cash Program for Babies


The city of Flint in Michigan has launched a program, Rx Kids, that gives all mothers $1,500 while they are pregnant and $500 per month for the first year of their child’s life. 

SCOTT SANTENS;, @scottsantens
    Santens is an author on universal basic income and the founder and president of the Income to Support All Foundation

Santens celebrated the new Flint program. He told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “I like that Flint is doing something more universal than a lot of other cities are doing. Sometimes the thinking is ‘let’s target income, and make sure [recipients are] beneath the line.’ But it’s so much better to provide universally. If you’re going to be a parent in Flint, you can get this program. If you make someone jump through hoops––[like making parents provide] copies of their previous three years of tax returns––then people who need the program end up getting excluded from it. It’s [also] much easier to attack a program as being for ‘them’ if you don’t receive it yourself.”

Santens noted that the program in Flint is permanent, unlike many other cities that have begun to implement universal cash programs as small pilot programs. “A lot of these city-based pilots around the country promote their plan as being a pilot test. But when it comes to getting money to kids in their first year of life, the evidence is very strong.” In contrast to the enhanced Child Tax Credit, Flint’s program also allots money during pregnancy. 

Santens pointed to longitudinal studies out of North Carolina and Alaska. Alaska has had a form of universal income, distributed through a dividend, since 1982. Cash payments are delivered without a means test or a work requirement. “The amount in Alaska is usually one to two thousand dollars, and it’s provided once a year, so you get a natural experiment situation. Some kids are born and get the payment immediately, whereas others have to wait [nearly] a whole year before they get it. We see that when kids get that extra thousand dollars, there is a 10 percent reduction in instances of child abuse reported to child protective services. That’s per thousand dollars. They’ve looked at reduced child obesity. [The payments] also positively impact women while they’re pregnant, so kids are born healthier with healthier birth weights, which is associated with [many] positive health impacts [over time].

“Multiple studies have been done that look at long-term return on investment of investing in kids. Child poverty is not free. It’s expensive to all of society; we pay for it in terms of taxes going to the criminal justice system, taxes to Medicare and Medicaid, our own insurance higher premiums. We spend money on all these things. It doesn’t make sense to spend $60,000 a year to keep someone in prison if that could have been avoided if that person had a healthier childhood and more money as a baby. We need to look at this with a wider lens. With the enhanced Child Tax Credit, we were arguing over $100 billion. But the return on investment is 10 times that––it’s 10 to one

“The cost of child poverty is calculated at over a trillion dollars per year. The younger [we give kids money], the more impactful it is. The program in Flint [will help kids] start off on the right foot. I hope other areas take note and start doing what they can. We know that this stuff works.”