By REBECCA HAZEN
Brothers Andrew and Davey Smith, natives of Lookout Mountain, are co-founders and co-presidents of the grassroots Community Improvement Fund, whose mission is to send an unconditional monthly check to every resident in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Area.
Andrew, 24, has a background in economics. For the past two years, he has worked as a financial advisor, helping families make financial decisions and save for retirement. Davey, 26, has a background in computer science and is pursuing a career as a software engineer.
“Essentially what we are doing is our own spin on universal basic income (UBI). When I was in college, Andrew Yang came into popularity when he ran for president. His whole platform was UBI. That introduced that concept to me,” Andrew Smith said.
The idea of the Community Improvement Fund is similar to UBI, but instead of being implemented by the government, it is privately funded by donations to the nonprofit.
“We are using an endowment model to implement the program. We will take all of the money that we raise and we put it into an invested endowment account. Every year we pay a small percentage of our investment income, and that is what funds the program,” Smith explained. “That is the same model that universities and hospitals use. It is perfectly sustainable.”
Smith noted that by being privately funded, the need to tax anyone is eliminated, and it also removes any possible government related corruption.
According to Smith, the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 95 percent of U.S. stocks. Only about half of Americans are exposed to the stock market, and most of that is through their job’s 401k.
“That perpetuates the wealth gap between the wealthiest and the poorest. Generation to generation, middle class families tend to stay at the same level, while wealthier classes get richer. When the stock market hits record highs, that doesn’t affect most of us. We wanted to tap into that and make the expediential growth of the economy work for all its citizens,” Smith said.
The initial goal is to raise $5,000. Andrew and Davey have held a couple of trivia night fundraiser events so far, where they ask for a $5 donation. That donation comes with a chance to be the first recipient once they reach their goal.
“$5,000 is what is going to allow us to enroll our first person on the ‘payroll.’ You will get a chance to get at least $20 a month for the rest of your life,” Smith said.
Smith continued, “We are starting the checks out small, at $20. We want to grow wide first, to get as many people receiving checks and getting used to that concept. Then we start increasing those checks to where they make a difference in their monthly budget. It will be a balance of adding people and increasing the paycheck. We do consider this a long-term project.”
The next trivia night is scheduled for Jan. 15 at Ascalon Baptist Church Fellowship hall, 109 Ascalon Rd., Rising Fawn. In the future, they hope to have more fundraiser nights in different locations, including Trenton.
Smith knows that UBI can carry a negative connotation for some people because of an association with welfare benefits, and he encourages everyone to research more on the topic.
“When they get this check, this can hold them over while they are unemployed, and they don’t have to worry about losing this money when they find a job. Finding a job will be a positive thing because then they will make more money. I think UBI is better than more traditional social safety nets,” Smith said.
Smith continued, “There are a lot of municipalities in the U.S. that have done UBI experiments, like Stockton, Calif. Employment actually goes up. Some people, maybe they need just a little bit of extra money to start a side hustle that they have been wanting to do, but they didn’t have the resources.”
For more information and updates, follow the Community Improvement Fund Facebook page, or visit communityimprovementfund.org. The Community Improvement Fund also has a YouTube Channel, where Andrew and Davey speak about the organization and its progress.
“We are a grassroots organization, and we are not shy about that. We are starting on a small scale. We want to build it from the ground up and add as many people as possible,” Smith said.