A bill to give universal, guaranteed income to high school seniors who are homeless passed in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday in a 5-1 vote.
According to Senate Bill 1341, authored by Senator Dave Cortese (D-Campbell), about 15,000 high school students who are in grade 12, who have completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act application, and are homeless would be eligible to enter California Success, Opportunity, and Academic Resilience (SOAR) Guaranteed Income Program. Under the SOAR program, these students would receive guaranteed income for at least 4 months between April 1, 2023, to August 1, 2023 from a new SOAR Guaranteed Income Fund funded by the state.
Any SOAR income received would be excluded from gross income in personal income taxes and would not go down as earned income for California Earned Income Tax Credit eligibility under SB 1341. Until August 1, 2024, SOAR funds would not be considered income “for purposes of determining the student’s, or any member of their household’s, eligibility for benefits or assistance, or the amount or extent of benefits or assistance, under any state or local means-tested program, including certain public social services programs.” The to-be-determined administrative group would also identify identify the CalWORKs, CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or other state programs that would require an exemption or waiver.
While many details of the program have not yet been included in the bill, including what the application process would be, if certain factors would favor certain students more for approval or what the payments or costs would be, Senator Cortese has noted what he hopes the SOAR program would bring in. Specifically, Cortese wants $1,000 monthly checks for 2023 graduating class seniors for four months in 2023, with a projected cost of $85 million a year should the program move on past 2023.
Senator Cortese wrote the bill following a slew of universal and guaranteed income projects in California being either initiated or proposed, including a proposed program giving low income California State University students guaranteed income, a race-based pilot program in Oakland, San Francisco building up a guaranteed income program for selected artists, a completed but flawed pilot program in Stockton, as well as numerous others across the state. In SB 1341’s case, in would focus on helping homeless high school seniors transition from high school graduation to either college or the workforce so they have several months of income to work with in setting up the next stage without fear of being evicted, going hungry, or other detrimental factors.
“California is a state affected by staggering inequities – we possess the most wealth, but yet suffer from the highest rate of poverty. And it is our youth that are stuck in a cycle of generational poverty without the means or opportunities to advance themselves,” said Senator Cortese in a statement. “SB 1341 will help unhoused youth exiting high school access higher education, employment, and financial stability as they make their way into adulthood. When we invest in our children, we can break the cycle of poverty.”
Michael Tubbs, the former Stockton Mayor who oversaw that cities universal income pilot program and Founder of End Poverty in California (EPIC), told the Committee on Wednesday in a letter that “Guaranteed income is proving to be a cost-effective policy solution to poverty and income inequality among marginalized communities. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) – a pilot I am proud to have launched while Mayor of Stockton – and the Santa Clara County Transition-Aged Youth Basic Income Pilot Program have both produced life-changing results for recipients. Moreover, recent research tells us that direct cash transfers, such as guaranteed income, can play a crucial role in helping youth to sustainably exit homelessness.”
Opposition against SB 1341
While Cortese and supporters have pushed the bill forward as only temporarily giving funds to a vulnerable population at a critical time of need, opposition to the bill is expected to increase, including no bill requirements identifying that the money has to go to either food or shelter, as well as questions over the true cost of the bill, and concerns that the checks would make those students not want to work during that time.
“This is an amazingly reckless bill,” Los Angeles-based economist Dylan Mendel, who has studied universal basic income attempts since the 1990’s, said in an interview with the Globe on Wednesday. “Universal basic income programs have had a bad track record of only offering temporary relief but not solving the problem. We’ve seen it in many places across the world, but California has been a main focus point. It’s gotten to the point that these bills just unceremoniously end now, like SB 739 last year and AB 2712 in 2020.”
“It may have passed a Committee on Wednesday, but it’s going to face some major issues. Like not stipulating how the money should be spent, because that’s a sticking point for many. The fact that there is no set cost is also worrisome, because that means it can balloon up. And that $1,000 he wants? What cost of living index or financial info is that tied to? The most successful universal income programs always ties the given amount to the facts before deciding on a nice round number.””
SB 1341 does bring up the point that a lot of high school students face homelessness and many have to contend with the summer after graduation. That’s fair. But this as a solution is just a mess right now. A lot of points need to be nailed down, and that’s only if lawmakers all want yet another universal income program on the books.”
Following passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, SB 1341 will be heard in Senate Human Services Committee in the coming weeks.