This is Our New Deal Moment | Opinion

As we move further into 2021 and leave behind one of the most challenging years of American history, it's imperative we set a course to vastly improve our safety net to match the magnitude of 2020's economic devastation.

Our social contract is long overdue for a revision—the last time we reacted to economic devastation this deep with policies that met the moment was nearly a century ago. In the wake of the massive job loss and financial chaos caused by the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal back in 1933. This era brought us the programs that are still the backbone of our social safety net: Social Security and unemployment insurance.

We are once again facing a crisis with millions unemployed, food bank lines for miles and an incoming presidential administration that must take swift action. We have a chance to fix the egregious mistakes of the past, without excluding Black Americans out of New Deal benefits.

As leaders proud to represent diverse communities, we are acutely aware of the racial inequity perpetuated through our economic system for centuries, the results of which are obvious in the shamefully disproportionate toll COVID has taken on communities of color.

Research shows that, despite having the highest rates of unemployment in the wake of the pandemic, Black workers received unemployment benefits at about half the rate of their white counterparts. On top of that, primarily Black and Latina workers held 140,000 jobs lost in December.

The issue is clear: Americans—particularly those of color—need equitable and effective financial relief, now. We don't need a complicated solution to a simple problem. We need to give people cash through a guaranteed income.

From mayors of cities to incoming members of Congress, the energy to provide struggling poor and middle-class families an income floor is undeniable. What just a year ago was considered a radical solution now includes a cohort of 34 mayors across the country, pilots in several cities and more than 10 cash-based relief bills in Congress.

We are simply delivering what our constituents are demanding—61 percent of voters want recurring payments throughout the duration of the pandemic's economic fallout, and 77 percent want at least one additional stimulus check.

We can see this polling play out tangibly in the recent Georgia Senate run-offs, where $2,000 stimulus checks were a highly successful organizing tool for Democrats.

Impatient for federal action to assist residents most in need, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently introduced the Golden State Stimulus, which would provide $600 payments to nearly 4 million low-income Californians reeling from the ongoing economic effects of the pandemic.

Aid tied to the pandemic is a start, but we are not looking to just go back to normal. If 2020 was about exposing the problem, 2021 is about finding the solution.

We do not need a restoration of the status quo that left millions behind. We need to fundamentally shift our economy into one that works for most of us and not only for the wealthy and corporations. A guaranteed income is the most direct and efficient way to do that. It also moves us toward equity in helping to close the racial and gender income gaps, as women and people of color are more likely to work low-wage jobs.

It is not just a moral argument, but an economic one. As leaders, we know first-hand how expensive it is to deal with a problem when it's left unchecked, and the exponential effects of neglect.

If your car needs new oil, you can spend $20 to replace it. If you don't have that $20, you'll have to wait until the engine blows up, leaving you with a bill in the thousands and no way to get to work.

Food bank
Boxes of food await distribution at a food bank in the Los Angeles County city of Duarte, California, on July 8, 2020. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

This is what we are allowing to happen in our economy—millions of people could be pulled back from the brink of financial collapse with just a few hundred dollars a month. Much of this money would be spent within our own communities, supporting small business owners who have struggled to obtain aid designated for them while large companies with pricey lawyers gobble up stimulus aid.

We saw the power of cash play out in the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) initiative. The philanthropically funded program, which ended this month, gave $500 a month to 125 residents for 24 months.

The results were both astounding and unsurprising. On the latter, people used the money just as you'd expect—to buy groceries, pay the electricity bill, cover rent. On the former, the money was a pathway to better opportunities during the good times and a financial lifeline through the bad.

One recipient, Tomas, was able to take time off from work to brush up his resume and interview for a better-paying job. He got the job, then COVID hit. His start date was pushed back, so he filed for unemployment. It took months for the money to arrive. During that time, his monthly $500 SEED payment was his sole source of income to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads. This is exactly what guaranteed income is meant to do—provide opportunity when things are going well, and stability when they aren't.

At a time when the richest just wrapped up their best year in history, we are beyond the debate of whether or not America can find a way to pay for a modest guaranteed income for the poor and middle class.

We are about to have a White House and both chambers of Congress controlled by a party centered on fighting for a better, fairer and brighter future for every American.

There is no better way to ensure that future than to invest in people. It is our job as leaders to push our counterparts forward, to an achievable vision for our country that finally provides the justice, equity and opportunity it has overpromised and underdelivered for far too long.

Michael Tubbs is the founder of Mayors For A Guaranteed Income.

Libby Schaaf is the mayor of Oakland, California.

Victoria Woodards is the mayor of Tacoma, Washington.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.