Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan Op-Ed “Ulster County’s UBI Experiment Proves At Least One Thing: Tremendous Need”

Posted July 28, 2021


KINGSTON, N.Y. - Today, Crain’s New York Business published an op-ed by County Executive Pat Ryan where he describes the trends seen from Ulster’s UBI recipients two months into the program. 


Announced as part of County Executive Pat Ryan’s 2021 State of the County address, Ulster County is providing 100 qualifying households with direct relief payments of $500 a month for an entire year, all funded through the generosity of community donations. Through a partnership between Project Resilience, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income, Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, and Ulster Savings Bank, Ulster County is the first county in the country to undertake a large-scale universal basic income pilot program. 


Full text of the op-ed is available below:

It’s been two months since Ulster County began what was, at the county level at least, a first-in-the-nation experiment: providing direct cash relief to our residents—$500 per month for 12 months. The response has been both heartbreaking and encouraging; and now with the program fully up and running, some fascinating patterns are starting to emerge.

These patterns offer valuable insights to government officials around the state or even around the country who may be considering such a program or who may be interested in its broader economic impacts.

Our initial findings are encouraging. Folks are not sitting on this money—they are spending it in the local economy. And there are early signs that they are using the funds for things that many of us take for granted.

Medical expenses have been a recurring theme—many recipients had put off critical care because of rising costs and insurance deductibles. Other recipients include a recent graduate finally able to get ahead on his student loans, a single mother looking to be a first-time homebuyer, a homeless man able to leave the hotel where he’s been living. 

One of the most gut-wrenching takeaways is how overwhelming the need is. I announced our universal basic income initiative during my annual State of the County address, and within 48 hours, we had received more than 1,500 applications. One woman watching on Facebook commented in real-time, “As a disabled single parent that would be life-changing.”

By the time applications closed, more than 4,200 residents had applied for 100 slots. That’s in a county of 180,000. 

When many think of Ulster, especially those in the five boroughs, the first places that come to mind are the increasingly popular communities of New Paltz, Woodstock and Kingston. But the flip side of our area’s growing desirability has been an increase of significant income inequality—and a growing housing affordability crisis.

When we notified those who were selected for the UBI program, one participant burst into tears of joy; many excitedly shared their plans to spend the funds; a few even refused to participate because it just seemed too good to be true. These honest, unfiltered reactions highlighted to us the tremendous financial pressures faced by so many of our residents, especially coming out of the pandemic. 

These applicants came from every corner of the county, no matter their political leanings. Conservatives, progressives and those in between—people from every background wanted to participate in the program. Program funds came entirely from community and philanthropic donations, and a local bank is administering them. The research is being overseen by a nationally recognized team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research.

Participants were interviewed at the beginning about how they planned to use the money, and they have provided regular updates. In addition, a control group of 100 who applied but did not receive the funds was selected, so we could compare spending choices and priorities.  

So what have I learned, on a more personal level, as an Ulster County native and now the county executive?  

Many of our residents have had tremendous financial weights piled on their shoulders for years and years—rising housing costs, impossible-to-pay insurance premiums, growing student debt. All the while wages have remained stagnant or even declined in real terms. Then Covid-19 came and piled on even more weight. This created fundamental, to-your-core anxiety: How am I possibly going to make this work?

But if we can start to relieve this weight, ease the pressure and create even a little breathing room, I believe we will be incredibly proud of how people will rise to the occasion.

Pat Ryan was elected Ulster County executive in 2019.