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The State With the Highest Homelessness Rate Could Be First to Create Universal Basic Income

Flickr/Duyang Kihat, Flickr/daveynin

Hawaii, a state with the one of the highest homeless rates in the United States, is considering a passing an unprecedented law with the ambitious goal of ending extreme poverty.

The state wants to provide residents with enough money to meet their basic needs. This idea is known as a universal basic income and now Hawaii is one step closer to passing it. 

In May, the state became the first to unanimously pass a bill that will create a group to consider setting up a universal basic income for residents. 

Most importantly, HCR 89 is the first of its kind to declare that all residents of a US state deserve financial security. 

The bill doesn’t go directly toward setting up universal basic income, but it does start the conversation, according to state Rep. Chris Lee, (D-HI), who introduced the bill to the state legislature.

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Universal basic income is not a new idea; pilot programs in Finland, Canada, Uganda, and Kenya are already doing it, Vox reports. And Alaska sends a portion of state oil revenue to residents annually. But Hawaii is the first state in the US to consider putting the idea into place with the intention of providing for its residents’ basic needs. 

“As far as I'm told it's the first time any state has made such a pronouncement, but I think it's an important statement of our values here in Hawaii on which we seek to act,” Lee said in a statement via Reddit. 

Fun fact: Lee told Vox that he first learned about universal basic income through Reddit. 

The bill justifies the need for UBI by explaining that automated services like Airbnb, self-checkout lines at grocery stores, and self-driving cars are going to replace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the future.

The bill also cites a high cost of living and rising income inequality in addition to future complications of Hawaii’s reliance on the service industry.  

Hawaii relies heavily on its hotels, restaurants, and tourism for income, and implementing an economic system where residents are not dependent on a sector that is becoming more and more automated could improve the lives of residents, according to Lee

Instead of fighting the coming changes of automation, a universal basic income would allow residents to embrace changes of the future and worry less about meeting basic needs, according to Lee

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“Universal basic income would also allow more people to share part time work between the fewer number of jobs that may be available, while lifting burdens on businesses, and providing a more secure and substantial safety net for all people, ending extreme financial poverty,” HCR 89 reads

But critics say that the reality of funding a universal basic income system would be nearly impossible, and could lead to a lazy work attitude, Futurism reports. Others, including Bill Gates, are skeptical that society is ready for a fixed income from the government.

"Over time countries will be rich enough to do this," Gates said. "However we still have a lot of work that should be done — helping older people, helping kids with special needs, having more adults helping in education."

But the bill is just a step toward considering universal basic income. 

Before actually implementing a universal basic income the bill proposes creating the Basic Economic Security Working Group, an economic council to assess the state’s economic status and its social programs. 

“The group will eventually be reporting back to the State Legislature with further recommendations and next steps,” Lee said in a Reddit post. “It will take more than one year to come up with options that make the most sense.”

While it could be years aways, Lee told Vox that he believes a universal basic income could benefit both taxpayers and Hawaii’s economy.

Follow next steps on the bill here.