Universal Basic Income was championed by Martin Luther King Jr., promoted by citizens of Silicon Valley as the “social vaccine for the 21st century” and endorsed by 2016 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, but it didn’t never really caught on.
Now, his time may have come.
California lawmakers on Thursday approved the country’s first state-funded guaranteed income program. Once the bill is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, cities and counties can apply for funding from a pool of $ 35 million to support current or new pilot projects that prioritize placed youth who have recently left the foster care system and pregnant mothers.
The White House has also rolled out some form of guaranteed income in its expanded new child tax credit which is part of the pandemic relief program.
The state’s program follows local efforts in the Bay Area and Stockton. Over the past two years, Oakland, Marin County, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County have launched one- to two-year Basic Income programs that offer participants between $ 500 and $ 1,000 guaranteed every month with no strings attached. These programs are largely funded by private donations.
The increase in guaranteed income support is attributed to the wealth and racial inequalities revealed by COVID-19, as job losses hit low-income and minority workers hardest.
The pandemic “has taken the blinders off of what it means to live on the fringes,” said Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Supervisor, member of Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a national group that has grown from 11 member cities to more than 50 in Canada. over the past year. “Everyone saw it.
The Bay Area’s basic income initiatives aim to lift artists, mothers or minorities out of poverty. The Santa Clara County program, which helps foster youth, helped lay the foundation for the statewide program.
“Cities are laboratories of democracy,” said Sukhi Samra, director of the group of mayors, who hopes pilots in the Bay Area and across California “will provide proof of concept” for federal policies.
The new wave of Basic Income initiatives are an alternative to government assistance programs that were “very prescriptive about the delivery of social services,” said State Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, who started the Santa Clara County Youth Foster Income Program as a departmental overseer. “There really was a mentality of ‘we know what’s best for you, the weakest and the poorest. “”
Critics of guaranteed income fear that free money, similar to unemployment benefits, will discourage participants from working. “There are some pretty plausible arguments to be made that the more generous unemployment benefits you pay, the less anxious people will be about returning to work,” said Matt Zwolinski, director of the Center for Ethics, Economics and Public Policy at the University of San Diego.
Supporters of the Universal Basic Income point to Stockton’s 2019 program, the state’s first, which found full-time employment among participants increased by 12% in the program’s first year. Participants, who received $ 1,000 per month from 2019 to 2021, reported greater financial stability month-to-month. This allowed them to buy the necessary food, pay unforeseen expenses and increase their general well-being.
Zwolinski is concerned that the one- to two-year lead times for pilots will limit the evidence researchers can draw from the data.
“The pilot programs are worth doing. They provide a certain level of evidence, ”he said, but“ there will always be a leap of faith involved in going from a pilot program to a full city-wide program to a full program. statewide ”.
The City of Oakland’s new program is the largest in the Bay Area, providing $ 500 per month to 600 families with incomes below the median household income in Oakland, or about $ 65,000 for a family of four people. San Francisco provides $ 1,000 per month to 130 artists and 150 pregnant black and Pacific Island women.
Likewise, Marin County will support 135 low-income women of color with $ 1,000 per month. The Santa Clara County pilot program provides $ 1,000 per month to 72 youth in foster care. Programs randomly select eligible residents or come from a pool of applicants.
One of the recipients of the Santa Clara program was Veronica Vieyra, a recent graduate from San Jose State University.
In March 2020, Vieyra was surviving on a monthly stipend of $ 1,100 thanks to an internship at iFoster, an organization that supports young people in foster care. Evicted from dormitories as COVID-19 spread across California, her monthly expenses for rent, car insurance and phone left her $ 280 for food and gas. The 25-year-old’s grades dropped and she fell into a new routine of life.
“If I’m asleep I don’t have to worry too much,” she recalls thinking. “I’m actually saving money because I won’t have to eat that much. Vieyra planned to return to the work at Safeway she worked before college, delaying her graduation.
When Vieyra received its first payment at the end of the summer, “the first thing I felt is that I am going to pay my rent. She paid two months in advance. “I was like, it feels good.”
With more free time, Vieyra took after-hours classes for classes she had failed the previous year, earning a degree in public health. She hopes to work with young people in foster care.
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