Los Angeles County became the latest local government in California to institute a guaranteed income pilot program this week, when the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a three year, $541,000 program for 150 residents.
According to the motion, which was co-authored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, the General Relief TAYportunity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Project would give $1,204 per month over a period of three years to 150 residents aged between 18 to 24 years old who are transitioning out of foster care or probation and who already receive general relief benefits. In addition, all recipients must also currently be in the Department of Public Social Services’ (DPSS) TAYportunity program, which helps find employment and apprenticeships for those youth entering the workforce.
Breaking down the guaranteed income, recipients would get $1,000 in income and $204 in CalFRESH benefits each month, on top of the $221 monthly relief benefits they currently receive from the government. The motion does not say how recipients will be chosen for the program, but did say that the DPSS will need to submit a plan for the program within 45 days.
Supervisors Solis and Hahn wrote the motion to specifically help youth receiving county benefits who are entering the workforce. According to the motion, most of the people who would qualify for the program are male and Black or Latino. 31% who also qualify are also homeless and don’t have a support network for help. Hahn and Solis also noted that the poverty these people specifically endure often destroys their lives, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that the guaranteed income pilot program would be one way to fight it.
“We have the blueprint to launch a guaranteed basic income program among a sample population that has not only been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic but has historically faced economic and social inequities,” said Supervisor Solis. “For transition-aged youth, this pilot program will not only provide financial assistance, but a support network that when combined with financial stability helps ensure the successful transition of youth into the community.”
In another statement on Tuesday, Supervisor Hahn agreed with her colleague and added that “Poverty is destructive. It can break spirits and destroy lives, Government needs new and better strategies to stop the cycle of poverty and a guaranteed basic income program has real potential.”
Concern over the guaranteed income program
Dissenting voters noted after the vote that guaranteed income programs have yet to be fully studied and that if any pilot program should be started, it needs to be more strategic on who it covers.
“I am deeply concerned about the motions approved by the Board of Supervisors today to guarantee a basic income for an unspecified group of individuals over a period of at least three years,” explained Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Implementation of ‘Guaranteed Basic Income’ has yet to be fully researched and vetted in a jurisdiction comparable to ours. As the largest county in the nation, we should be more diligent, thoughtful and strategic before we implement a program of this nature.”
Others noted the danger of such pilot programs.
“This is a concerning precedent,” Cheryl Keating, a law researcher who has studied universal basic income and guaranteed income proposals and programs in the United States and Canada, told the Globe on Thursday. “Whenever you focus too heavily on a group for this kind of money, it sets up not including more specific people in future programs. Notice that, except for Stockton or a few other smaller pilot programs in the past, these programs target specific people. That’s why they have been shying away from saying ‘universal’ income recently. It’s because they don’t want to do that and instead want to focus on other groups, thus destroying the entire thought behind it. Guaranteed income programs are a redistribution of wealth through taxes. You can try and argue that it isn’t, but fundamentally it very much is.”
“And the thing is, LA County isn’t the first to use an inclusive income program like this in California. San Francisco’s specifically targets artists. Oakland’s cuts out poor white families. Compton’s goes after low-income residents only. The state even passed one, but they structured it as an extension of the child tax credit for foster youth getting out of the system and pregnant women rather than straight giving out money, so both sides were happy with that. But, then again, bills have also been up this year trying to pass a universal basic income program too.”
“In a few years we’ll have some hard data to look at to make a better call on these, but for now, they just keep passing them.”
The General Relief TAYportunity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Project is expected to be implemented in LA County in the near future.