A state panel tasked with studying the possibility of a universal basic income in Maine held its first meeting last week.
Its mission, which has played out in different locations around the world, is to ascertain how much a regular Mainer would need to get by, and if state government should subsidize that.
Should its goal of eliminating poverty be successful, it would upend what decades of federal anti-poverty programs have sought to do.
“The problem, however, is that supplanting current anti-poverty programs at the state level with a universal basic income (UBI), direct cash payment or other forms of assistance, could mean that Maine loses out on federal dollars we receive to participate in current anti-poverty programs (SNAP, TANF, etc),” Jacob Posik, a policy analyst and spokesman for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said in an email response to The Center Square.
“This tradeoff seems like a nonstarter for many in Augusta, and means state taxpayers would be primarily responsible for the cost,” Posik added.
A UBI proposal like Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s could not be feasible in Maine, Posik said. “If the benefit was $1,000 monthly, for example, the annual cost estimate would exceed $12 billion,” Posik said, or roughly 50 percent larger than the state's current biennial budget.
“If the committee does move forward with recommendations to do something like this, it would almost certainly have to be means tested to some extent,” Posik said. “There simply aren't enough resources to go around in Maine to provide payments of this size on a regular basis. Taxpayers would also likely find it reprehensible that able-bodied, working age adults would receive cash benefits. Anti-poverty and safety net programs are intended to help our most vulnerable citizens – they're not meant to provide for those who have the means to provide for themselves.”
Posik also noted that many studies offer recommendations but do not ultimately become law.
“Hopefully lawmakers are beginning to acknowledge that the traditional approach to alleviating poverty, both in Maine and the US, is not working, but I'm not certain that expanding specific tax credits or adopting a UBI in Maine are feasible, effective solutions either,” he added.