.Out of Poverty

City of Alameda to launch guaranteed income pilot program

The City of Alameda will soon join a wave of U.S. cities fighting poverty through pilot Guaranteed Income (GI) programs.

An adage from the King James Bible is, “The poor you will always have with you.” But economic justice and civic leaders across the country are increasingly turning to the idea of GI pilot programs as one way to reduce the number of people living in poverty.

One of the first, and most high profile, of these programs was launched in Stockton in 2019 by then-Mayor Michael Tubbs. Called SEED (Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration), the two-year pilot provided 125 low-income residents with $500 per month in guaranteed basic income. Data collected since the conclusion of the pilot showed reduced income volatility, recipients enabled to find full-time employment, and health benefits, including less depression and anxiety.

The web magazine Pensions & Investments recently reported that 82 U.S. cities in 29 states have launched similar GI programs. Locally, this includes Oakland’s “Oakland Resilient Families,” which is providing 500 recipients with $500 per month for 24 months, and Mountain View’s new, and similar, “Elevate MV,” with 166 participants. 

The City of Alameda’s “Rise Up Alameda” is scheduled to launch this summer. Using $4.6 million in funding awarded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the program will allocate $1,000 per month to 150 low-income Alameda residents for 24 months. The goals, according to city materials, include reducing economic instability for program participants, helping to change local narratives and perceptions surrounding poverty and the provision of public benefits, and helping “to support and inform the larger discussion regarding public benefits and anti-poverty policies.” 

City staff will provide oversight and promotion. “Implementing partner” nonprofit Operation Dignity, which already has extensive connections in Alameda’s low-income community, will administer the pilot, acting as “the face of the program,” according to program coordinator Scarlet Corona. “We will do the outreach, hold info sessions and build the needed trust with the community,” Corona said. Operation Dignity will also collect applications, help enroll eligible participants, who will be chosen through a random lottery, and “collect the stories” of those in the program.

Outreach will target people experiencing or at risk of homelessness; immigrant, refugee and limited English-speaking communities; historically disenfranchised groups, including Black, Indigenous and other communities of color; low-income families, including senior citizens, affordable housing tenants/renters, people with disabilities and children/youth; Alameda Unified School District families; and College of Alameda students.

Eligible Alameda residents will be asked to complete a short online application that may also serve as the initial research survey. The city will work with the Alameda Free Library and community organizations to provide access to computers in key locations, and the application will be provided in multiple languages, making it accessible to a wide audience.

“A large amount of the work is on the front end,” said Walker Toma, a development manager with the City of Alameda. “Rise Up Alameda” will also use ABT Associates as the “financial partner,” responsible for distributing monthly payments, almost certain to be in the form of the rechargeable debit cards most Californians became familiar with during the pandemic.

A “research partner” will also be selected, which, among other duties, will aid in securing benefits waivers, so that participants don’t lose support benefits they already have, determine how the program has contributed to financial security and share program results as an anti-poverty tool. “An approved research program is required by the State of California,” said Eric Fonstein, also a City of Alameda development manager. “[The data it collects] could be transformative.”

The city will also form an advisory board that will include community and advocacy organizations, low-income individuals and city staff, tasked with informing key decisions.

“All City of Alameda residents making below 50% of the city’s median income will be eligible to apply,” said Toma. He explained that “Rise Up Alameda” is a city-council-directed program resulting from two years of community input and study. The council also approved the $1,000 per month payments, based on average costs of living in the city, he said. 

Both city staff and Operation Dignity are aware of residents’ possible fears of benefit losses. A $50,000 “Benefits Conservation Fund” will be used to potentially compensate for any lost benefits. Based on previous GI pilot projects, Toma reported, “For the most part, these funds are not used.” Operation Dignity will also employ two benefits counselors who will help participants work their way through the inevitable paperwork.

Asked how participants are expected to use the funds, Fonstein noted that there is “lots of flexibility,” citing additional education and training, and durable goods, as examples. One study from Tacoma, WA on its pilot GI program revealed more than 50 ways participants had used funds, including, in one case, special tutoring for a child with special needs. 

“[The funds] can help address unexpected expenses, providing economic security,” Fonstein said. 

Added Toma, “Some people are working three jobs—they may be able to cut back to two,” enabling them to spend more time with their family.

When “Rise Up Alameda” concludes, there will also be an “off-boarding” process, helping participants re-enroll in other government programs, if needed, and possibly providing financial literacy courses. Said Operation Dignity’s Corona, “We’ll be looking to connect people to resources they may not have heard of, so they will be prepared when [the program ends].”

All those interviewed expressed hope that the “huge amount of data” that will become available over the next few years, when these pilot projects conclude and results are analyzed, will prove without question the ongoing beneficial effects of additional income to low-income families. Data already exists to show this, Toma emphasized, pointing to a February CalMatters article that quoted Aly Bonde, manager of Oakland Resilient Families, saying, “There’s so much academic research that shows that stabilizing the home a child lives in gives a generational impact for 10, 20 years.”

The CalMatters article also states: “Studies show cash transfers to low-income families—especially when children are young—are associated with improved child development, better performance in school, stronger health outcomes and increases in the children’s future earnings.” In other words, the extra funds in fact do help break the cycle of poverty, allowing younger family members to change the narrative of their lives.

“We are very excited to be part of this national movement,” said Fonstein.

For more information about the City of Alamedas Guaranteed Income Pilot Program, contact the Community Development Department at [email protected] or 510-747-6890.

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