SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (BCN) — Sonoma County is partnering with the cities of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg and a coalition of community groups to launch a two-year pilot program that will provide a guaranteed minimum income of $500 a month to 305 low-income families as it studies the program’s impacts on reducing poverty and promoting economic stability and mobility.

The project is a collaborative effort by the Sonoma County Guaranteed Basic Income Coalition, a group of community-based organizations.

The $5.4 million effort is funded by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the city councils of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg — as well as Corazón Healdsburg and First 5 Sonoma County. More than 90 percent of the pilot project funding is from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, intended to help the county recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Many in our community continue to struggle to afford their basic needs,” said Supervisor James Gore. “This guaranteed income pilot will ensure that participating families can cover expenses not covered by other benefits such as rental assistance and food stamps, which are insufficient especially for families with young children.”

Guaranteed minimum income programs, provide unconditional, guaranteed monthly payments to support recipients’ fundamental needs. The concept has been tested in multiple jurisdictions in California, including Stockton, Oakland, San Francisco and Marin County.

The Stockton program led to increases in recipients’ financial stability and full-time employment, in part by enabling new opportunities for self-determination and goal-setting while reducing anxiety and depression. Analysis of monthly expenditures by participants revealed that the largest spending category was food followed by utilities, auto care and transportation. Less than 1 percent of monthly purchases were for tobacco and alcohol.

“Emerging findings from other guaranteed income projects clearly demonstrate the power of unrestricted cash to support the health, well-being and economic stability of families,” said Angie Dillon-Shore, executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, a Santa Rosa nonprofit focused on childhood development. “Unconditionally raising the income floor increases the parent’s ability to cover basic needs, reduces the negative impacts of food and housing insecurity for their children, boosts health and education outcomes, and offers a springboard to economic mobility, especially to those who have long been structurally marginalized and locked into low-wage positions.”

Who qualifies?

The Sonoma County pilot program will assist 305 families, who will receive unconditional payments of $500 a month for 24 months. To qualify, families must live in Sonoma County, have a household income up to 185 percent above the federal poverty level dependent on family size (for example, $51,338 or below for a family of four), be pregnant and/or parenting a child under the age of 6 and have experienced adverse economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic (loss of employment, income, child care or housing).

“This is a chance for Santa Rosa to make a measurable difference in the lives of our most vulnerable residents,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers. “A guaranteed basic income is a step in our efforts to end generational, pervasive poverty in our community.”

“Petaluma is looking forward to working with our partners to leverage funds to expand this pilot to our residents,” said Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett. “This program will provide services beyond the guaranteed income program and we encourage people to apply.”

“Healdsburg is excited to be at the forefront of this evidence-based approach to support our low-income families during what continues to be a very challenging time in our community,” said Healdsburg Mayor Osvaldo Jimenez.

How to apply

The pathway to income equity program began accepting applications Friday. To apply, visit HERE. Applications close at midnight on Oct. 31, 2022.

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