Homeless high school seniors could get $1,000 a month if California passes basic income bill
Thousands of homeless high school seniors would receive $1,000 a month for five months under a new bill proposed by Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose.
The bill, SB 333, would create a guaranteed income pilot program known as SOAR, or “Success, Opportunity, and Academic Resilience.”
All homeless 12th grade students who “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” would be eligible. They would receive the direct cash payments from April to August 2024.
“These payments, made with no-strings-attached, enable students to cover basic needs so they may take crucial steps toward college or career,” Cortese said in a statement Tuesday. “We must stop graduating 15,000 high school students into homelessness each year.”
Supporters of the bill say the cash will help homeless high school seniors bridge the gap between graduation and starting their next chapter. The summer after graduation marks a challenging transition period for young people who lose access to valuable support services that schools provide, such as food assistance, shelter and school counselors.
Youth experiencing homelessness face greater financial barriers to higher education, a critical means of overcoming poverty and achieving financial stability, the bill’s proponents say. Some students might fully intend to pursue college, but never enroll due to financial issues.
“They have hopes and dreams,” said Teri Olle, California campaign director for the Economic Security Project, an organization committed to funding and studying guaranteed income programs. “They want to get going on their lives that they’ve planned, but there are so many obstacles in the way, whether that’s moving away for school or covering last month’s rent.”
The city of Stockton conducted the nation’s first direct cash assistance pilot program in 2019, and many advocates point to the results as a major success. The 130 adult participants received $500 a month for 18 months. and could spend the money however they wanted. After the first year, researchers found that participants were not only employed at higher rates, but were also healthier, happier, and better able to withstand unexpected expenses.
“Unrestricted cash just works,” Olle said. “It means people have the resources to meet their own needs.”
Cortese’s latest effort builds on his 2022 attempt at passing a similar bill. The former Santa Clara County Supervisor helped create a first-of-its-kind basic income pilot for transition-aged foster youth in 2020, which was scaled up in 2021 to become California’s first state-funded guaranteed income pilot program.
Late last year, the Department of Social Services awarded $25 million in grants to seven different guaranteed income projects. At least 1,975 Californians, primarily pregnant individuals and transition-age foster youth, received cash payments of up to $1,200 as part of the program.
Supporters of Cortese’s bill are still ironing out logistics for how to get the money to the eligible students. Olle pointed out that even the country’s biggest guaranteed income pilots are still rather small. A recently conducted program in the city of Los Angeles included 3,200 households, while a pilot in Cook County, Illinois reached 3,250 households.
Successful scaling of these programs will require the state and counties to develop additional pipelines for distributing money to large numbers of people. Despite the implementation challenges, Olle feels confident that direct cash assistance will give homeless graduates the boost they need to get into college or secure their first full-time job.
“How do we disrupt poverty?” Olle said. “This is how — right here.”