South San Francisco has become the first city in San Mateo County to offer a guaranteed income program, which aims to help the city’s low-income and vulnerable populations.

The City Council unanimously approved moving forward with the program — spearheaded by Vice Mayor Mark Nagales — during its July 14 meeting.

“Our neighbors are struggling to make those ends meet. And for many of them, an uncertain future lies ahead,” Nagales, said. “I know we can do this and I know we can help our residents.”

The MTC has identified the city as a community of concern with pockets of low income and high need neighborhoods that are vulnerable to displacement, and the majority of the Latinx community live in the two lowest income census tracts, said Christina Fernandez, assistant to the city manager.

The Guaranteed Income Program will provide $500 a month for 12 months to over 135 eligible families. The city will contract with the YMCA to administer the program. It is prioritizing foster youth transitioning out of care, single head of households, families with minor-aged children, and those residing in the city’s lowest-income census block tracks. If more than 135 applications are received, the program administrator will implement a lottery system.

“After we do the targeted outreach, which is in this phase of bringing in the folks who might qualify for this program, we sit down with each and every one of them,” Jane Chandler, director of clinical services at the YMCA of San Francisco, said.

Along with this comprehensive intake process, they are given financial literacy programs and several different resources that are available to them if they choose to learn more on how to budget money and find specific programs they can qualify for, she said. Once deemed eligible, they receive a card for their payments.

Fernandez and Chandler also compared the city of Stockton’s Universal Basic Income Experiment stating that it found that the rate of participants able to find full-time employment  jumped from 28% to 40%, and that less than 1% of these funds were used on alcohol and tobacco.

“With that financial security, they were able to spend the majority of their money on essentials like groceries, housing and gas,” Fernandez said.

Nagales brought up a concern if people might get disqualified if they’re already participating in a state program or federal program.

Since there is not an universal waiver for guaranteed income programs in the state, they work to find out what could make them ineligible or decrease their public benefits through the extensive intake process, Chandler said.

“We found that the one that negatively affects the most is housing,” she said. “Because this income is considered income in the housing world, most guaranteed income programs have created harmless funds. In which case, this fund could be used to pay that rent.”

She also said it may affect food stamps and they are investigating exactly how.

Councilmember James Coleman mentioned he was happy to see that formerly incarcerated people could apply for the program.

“They have a criminal record and they can’t get a job and then they have to resort to crimes of poverty,” he said. It’s a really endless cycle of poverty. And this would be a way to help people who are recently released to get back on their feet and be a member of our communities.”

And he brought up a 2017 study that found that 57% of Americans could not afford an unexpected $500 emergency, pointing out the need for a program like this.

Undocumented people are also eligible for this program. Even if someone doesn’t have Social Security or an I-10, they are able to get a savings account with CFR, Chandler said.

Mayor Mark Addiego said he’d like to increase the funds to reach as many families as possible. The amount was amended from $800,000 to $1 million.

“If we can show the success and how it truly changes people’s lives, maybe others will step up and find the motivation to keep this program going beyond the one year,” he said.

During this process, data is collected. One comes from CFR, which is the electronic data from how people are spending money on the cards and the other is self-reported, as well as survey narrative questions to understand how people are spending the money and why, Chandler said.

People voluntarily choose to share this data and are compensated for it. The data collection happens at the beginning of the program and has quarterly follow ups at six, 12, and 18 months following the last payment.

The city will fund the program through American Rescue Plan funds. The staff is looking to do training and have outreach to the community in July and August, and August through September would be an application period. It is expected to launch in mid-October.

California lawmakers on July 15 approved the first state-funded guaranteed income plan in the U.S. for a total of $35 million. Monthly cash payments will go toward qualifying pregnant people and young adults who recently left foster care with no restrictions on how they spend it. The city plans to apply for this government assistance program.

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