Startup business
Small business entrepreneurs in Ann Arbor could receive payments totalling to nearly $13,000, as part of a new GBI program in the city. RDNE Stock project/Pexels

Financially struggling Americans often turn to guaranteed basic income (GBI) programs to navigate economic challenges and meet essential needs. This approach is recognized as an effective strategy for addressing poverty.

A recent initiative in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is reshaping how income support is provided to low-income earners by introducing a GBI program tailored for local entrepreneurs, small business owners, and gig workers.

Dubbed Guaranteed Income to Grow Ann Arbor, the program will allocate $528 per month for 24 months to 100 eligible residents, allowing them to use the funds as they see fit without any obligation to repay. These payments aim to help recipients cover day-to-day expenses and create space for them to focus on developing or launching their businesses.

Launched in January, the program is set to disburse payments by the end of 2025, totaling $12,672 per recipient. To qualify, Ann Arbor residents must earn below the federal poverty line, which is $32,805 for individuals and $67,500 for a four-person household.

Funded by $1.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act allocated to Ann Arbor three years ago, along with contributions from the Ann Arbor Community Foundation, the program will also enlist researchers from the University of Michigan to gather insights from participants through surveys.

Eligible participants include startup entrepreneurs, aspiring business owners, side hustlers, independent contractors, and local artists or musicians, provided their income falls below the specified thresholds.

The program's organizers highlighted the challenges faced by lower-income individuals in pursuing entrepreneurial dreams and expressed hope that the initiative would shed light on the effectiveness of GBI in supporting business endeavors.

Ann Arbor was chosen for the program due to its thriving small business ecosystem, with nearly half of Michigan's startup ventures based in the city. With 69 venture-backed startups in Washtenaw County and a significant increase in startup activity since 2014, Ann Arbor has become a hotspot for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The city's high concentration of residents with graduate degrees, many of whom are University of Michigan alumni, further positions it as a fertile ground for future startup success.

While specialized income programs like GBI are gaining traction across the U.S., including initiatives in Flint, Atlanta, and Denver targeting specific demographics, some lawmakers oppose such schemes, fearing they may foster dependency on government assistance.

Efforts to ban GBI programs have emerged in states like South Dakota, Iowa, and Arizona, reflecting ongoing debates about the role of government support in addressing economic inequality.