Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan delivered his state-of-the-county address earlier this week. He spoke with WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne about the start of a basic income pilot program as well as initiatives under his Green New Deal.
Ryan’s address included two main themes.
“The first is building on all the resilience work that we did in the county with food delivery, childcare support, rent support, small business support, to add a new and really pretty innovative addition to that, which is a pilot program of universal basic income, essentially providing direct cash relief to families in Ulster County, as they try to get, you know, work their way out of the economic stress and challenges of the pandemic. So we're really excited about that one,” Ryan says. “And I think, not only will it have a direct impact for the 100 families that will participate in, in the program, but it will also add to this growing body of research and work nationally in terms of figuring out the potential for universal basic income to help potentially millions of people around the country.”
“Is there the potential to expand this after the year is over?” asks Dunne.
“I hope that, one, I hope that our theory is right that this is a great and effective model. And, if it is, the idea would be how can we at the county level expand it. Ultimately, to do something at scale like this, it would, I think, need to be a state and/or a federal program. But our hope is as, as now the first county in the country to do this at the county level, we can add to the research and the proof points there,” says Ryan. “And I hope that in the coming years, this is something that that grows and continues to help people.”
“And correct me if I'm wrong, this is based on the community donations, just like project resilience, right? This is not going to be taxpayer funded,” says Dunne.
“Exactly. That's an important part. I mean, given all the economic challenges, we were excited to be able to do this in a way that doesn't add to the taxpayer burden, but still provides this relief, and it reinvest all these generous community donations right back into our community here, which is very cool,” Ryan says. “I've already heard from, from several folks. One, one woman actually live-watching the state of the county address commented, I'm a single mother, this $500 a month would be life-changing for my family and I, and the hope is that that can be replicated for, for many others both in this program and, eventually, hopefully for more.”
Residents who want to participate in the program and receive direct relief payments of $500 a month for one year must have an annual income of $46,900 or below.
“So we've been really thoughtful about doing this in the right ways, both in terms of fairness, but also in terms of academic rigor. We're partnering with the nation-leading research institution on this, that’s the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Guaranteed Income. So they've done this in 20-plus cities around the country already, and they will actually be doing a random selection of all those that apply to ensure that it's really a totally fair and impartial process,” Ryan says. “And, and that also will help, again, feed what we learn on the ground here in Ulster County into the broader national dialogue about how to do this and how to do it in the right ways.”
Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley and Ulster Savings Bank are also partners in the program. In Columbia County, former presidential candidate and now New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang joined with Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson to launch a Universal Basic Income pilot program in the city last year.
Ryan’s second theme during his pre-recorded Facebook address Tuesday was expanding a Green New Deal for Ulster County. During his first week in office in 2019, Ryan signed an Executive Order committing to transitioning county operations to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. Since, he launched a Green Careers Academy in partnership with SUNY Ulster. This year, the county will expand the Academy by bringing on new partners including Ulster BOCES, Bard College, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Central Hudson, Citizens for Local Power, Habitat for Humanity, the Climate Reality Project and several local labor unions to help train residents and put them on a path to good-paying green jobs. And he announced this week the Ulster County Green Business Champions program, a public-private partnership to more aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Twenty percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the private sector. And the idea here is to both reward and recognize those that are already doing this work and to provide financial support and other support to businesses that want to make these investments,” Ryan says. “So for example, rooftop solar on your business, we can help finance that and actually save your business money and help protect the environment. And there are a whole menu of those sorts of things that we're excited to help our businesses with.”
On Wednesday, Ryan and the county comptroller released 2020 sales-tax revenue figures.
“I’d say, in a relative sense, pretty good news,” says Ryan. “We were, we came in a little over $1 million under our forecasted sales-tax revenue but much better than we sort of expected at the worst of the pandemic when we were seeing 20, 30 percent drop-offs in economic activity and sales tax.”
He says it appears economic recovery efforts worked on the local level, as did putting federal stimulus checks into the hands of residents.
“And, by the way, that’s exactly ties back to the thinking on universal basic income that getting money into people’s pockets, especially in a time of crisis, not only helps them but it, but it helps our broader economy,” Ryan says,
Through September 2020, the county’s sales tax numbers were down 7.8 percent, or $5.8 million. However, the county regained ground from October 2020 through February 2021, with an increase of 11.37 percent or $5.9 million.