�No strings attached�: Oakland families to get $500 a month in �guaranteed income�
OAKLAND – Six hundred Oakland families will get $500 a month for one and a half years – no strings attached – through a pilot program that aims to spawn a nationwide model of guaranteed cash assistance to low-income families.
Called Oakland Resilient Families, the program is a collaboration between Oakland-based nonprofit Family Independence Initiative and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a nationwide alliance of mayors pushing the federal government to provide cash to Americans to cover basic needs.
All families of color with at least one child under the age of 18 and income at or below 50% of the area median income – about $59,000 per year for a family of three – can apply for the monthly $500. About half of the spots will be reserved for families earning below 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $30,000 per year for a family of three.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said at a news conference Tuesday the program should show that giving money to families without restrictions can help fight poverty and close the racial wealth gap.
�We believe guaranteed income is the most transformative policy that can achieve this vision and whose time has come,� Schaaf said. �We believe poverty is not personal failure; it is a policy failure.�
Oakland’s pilot program is modeled after a similar, high-profile one in Stockton, touted by that city’s ex-mayor, Michael Tubbs, who also started Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.
Launched in , the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration gave 125 city residents $500 a month for two years, with no strings attached or work requirements.
Researchers who studied Stockton’s program found it not only benefited the families’ finances and physical and emotional health but also resulted in more full-time employment.
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�We understand the issue is not that people don’t work or that people don’t want to work,� Tubbs said. �The economy does not work for people.�
The once-radical idea to give no-strings-attached cash assistance has gained traction. It was a campaign platform for former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and experimental programs are sprouting across the country. In Compton, a pilot program is giving $500 per month to 800 people .
Direct checks to Americans through federal COVID-19 stimulus packages also have helped familiarize people with the idea of cash assistance.
Family Independence Initiative, which was started 20 years ago and works to bring cash to families struggling with poverty across the country, is implementing the program in Oakland.
�When people say �How do we solve poverty in America?’ the reality is that families solve poverty every day,� said Jesus Gerena, CEO of Family Independence Initiative. �It is organized efforts like this partnership with the mayors that will create real change,� he added.
But short of advocating for an expanded program at the state or federal level, it’s unclear whether guaranteed income will continue to flow in Oakland when the 18-month pilot program ends.
The program is funded entirely through private funds from philanthropic firm Blue Meridian Partners. Of the $6.7 million raised so far for the pilot, 80% will go directly to the families and about 20% will be used to run the program at Family Independence Initiative and toward research.
Any plan to continue the program or expand it locally would require either sustained philanthropic donations or an allocation from the city’s budget, which is created every two years and approved by the City Council.
�Our pilot is 600 families. We know that does not come close to meeting the need in Oakland nor in the nation,� Schaaf said, explaining the program is an effort to provide a �body of evidence� to show that �guaranteed income must be adopted at the federal level.�
The city and nonprofit leaders at the press conference said the intent is not to push out other social safety benefits, such as credit to buy food. Unlike �universal basic income,� which is intended to give equal money to everyone regardless of wages and has been criticized for its potential to replace existing social benefits, guaranteed income aims to complement those benefits.
Though all families of color in Oakland who meet the child and income requirements can apply, half of the 600 must be from East Oakland. The program is expected to begin this summer.