When stay at home orders took hold across Latin America, the army of informal workers that sustains day-to-day life found themselves, overnight, unable to meet their most basic needs. The ranks of the extremely poor swelled in a matter of days.

To stave off a humanitarian disaster, policymakers deployed emergency cash transfers as quickly as politically and logistically possible. Even in the most conservative chambers, the discussion moved from “if” to “how,” and raised the question: What if such payments were permanent? The conversation has in turn pushed Universal Basic Income, or UBI, into the mainstream. What was once considered a policy dream on the margins of politics has now become the center of a debate over what would happen if governments guaranteed income to their constituents. 

Since 2013, one town is trying to answer such questions. In Maricá, a coastal town in the state of Rio de Janeiro with a population of 160,000, a basic income guarantee program is under way, with the objective of reaching universal status. Whether this is the solution for Latin America’s inequality, the jury is still out. Researchers hope the Maricá experiment will shed light – and data – over the actual impact of a basic income guarantee in the economy. “Whatever we find here will be largely portable.” said Nuñez

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