Soucheray: The money for CollegeBound Boost, of course, is not free

·3 min read

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced Phase Two of his free money program last week, a program called CollegeBound Boost. Phase One, announced in November 2020, was called the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot.

How many consultants or new Cabinet members were brought on board Carter’s sinking ship to come up with these schemes remains unknown.

The money, of course, is not free. Carter, with the approval of the city council, uses federal coronavirus relief grants as well as money from donors. It was $1.5 million in Phase One.

In Phase Two, 333 families will get $1,000 added to their CollegeBound Boost accounts and 333 additional families will get the same $1,000 for college plus two full years of monthly $500 checks. Eligibility requires that a family is enrolled in CollegeBound Boost and have an income no more than three times the federal poverty limit. Phase Two requires $4 million in pandemic relief funds — no, I don’t know what pandemic relief funds have to do with guaranteed income — and $1 million from charitable souls.

How generous. The federal poverty limit for a family of four in 2020 is a yearly income of $26,200. A family of four then can have an income of $78,600 and still be eligible.

It’s probably just me, but I get the feeling that Carter doesn’t like being the mayor of St. Paul. The basics are a mess. The streets are an embarrassment, homeless camps occupy the riverfront, crime is rampant, the Green Line is unsafe to ride and downtown is a hollowed-out heartbreak.

Maybe he’s waiting for a call from the Biden administration with a job offer much more in keeping with his grandiose and expensive visions. Those visions are only to get more expensive. When the pandemic relief spigot is turned off, presumably in two years, it would be foolhardy to think the program will end. These things never end. The property-tax payers will be on the hook.

Speaking of which, won’t the city be facing significant budget problems in the years to come? For example, there’s been a recent court decision that prevents the city from assessing individual property owners for street repairs. And the poorly thought-out rent-control ordinance makes rental housing worth less, thus generating fewer tax dollars.

It seems like an inopportune time to focus on a guaranteed basic income program with no strings attached, all funded with other people’s tax dollars which are fated to run out, requiring a new source of funding.

Gratefully and, well, shockingly, the city will compare the results between three groups, those getting only college money, those getting college money and monthly income checks and a third control group of 333 families who receive neither. University of Michigan professor William Elliott, a prominent researcher of children’s college savings accounts, will evaluate the program. With the city rapidly deteriorating around us, we have at least a fighting chance to learn if this program actually worked.

“Guaranteed income helps parents make it through a month,” Elliott said in a statement released by the city. “But savings for the future — through savings deposits from the city — gives families tangible hope for their kids’ future.”

Great.

But given gas prices and the rate of inflation, there are a lot of families trying to make it to the end of the month and they have never been guaranteed a thing, much less an income.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at jsoucheray@pioneerpress.com. Soucheray’s “Garage Logic” podcast can be heard at garagelogic.com.

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