South San Francisco launches guaranteed income pilot program

Families may spend $500 a month however they like

By Jesse Bedayn

CalMatters

South San Francisco this month sent out the first $500 monthly checks to around 150 low-income families to spend however they see fit.

South San Francisco is the latest Bay Area city to launch a guaranteed income pilot program – in which participants receive monthly cash payments with no strings attached – with $1 million in American Rescue Plan funds and a $100,000 grant from San Mateo County.

“We’ve struggled as a society for years to deal with poverty and we don’t have enough success to show for it,” said Dave Pine, a San Mateo County supervisor. “It’s time to try something new.”

The program, which launched last week, comes months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill offering $35 million in funding to support current or future guaranteed income pilots like those that exist in Santa Clara County, Oakland, Marin County and San Francisco. Those programs offer $500 to $1,000 a month to different populations, including foster youth and pregnant women.

South San Francisco’s pilot prioritizes foster youth, families with young children and low-income households in the largely Asian American and Hispanic city, where 24% of the population doesn’tearn enough to afford basic necessities, according to United Ways of California. Undocumented residents and formerly incarcerated people are also eligible for the program.

The YMCA Community Resource Center in South San Francisco will manage the program with support from Community Financial Resources, an Oakland nonprofit that help set up bank accounts and debit cards for the payments to residents. Participants also receive financial training.

Every three months, the YMCA will release reports with data on participants’ spending trends. The goal is to determine the effectiveness of guaranteed income, and the results may set the groundwork for larger programs in the future.

The idea of guaranteed income is a break from older, more prescriptive methods of doling out public assistance money.

Rules around how money should be spent in state programs like food stamps or requirements that people on unemployment be searching for work, “don’t actually fit the realities they are facing,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center.

Hoene points to results from Stockton’s $500 a month guaranteed income pilot. People in that program were better able to find full-time jobs, pay emergency bills and stay healthy, according to a report from Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration.

“All of the evidence is pointing to the fact that people who don’t have much income,” said Hoene, “actually use the additional cash wisely and position themselves to be better off.”

This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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