Sonoma County Basic Income Program seeks to provide ‘helping hand’ for families

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A pilot program launched in Sonoma County in early September aims to help low-income families become more financially stable through guaranteed monthly cash payments.

The local program, the first of its kind, will provide $500 per month for 24 months to 305 families with young children.

The aim is to help relieve the financial pressure on families to meet basic needs, which proponents say will lead to improved educational outcomes and the physical and mental health of parents and children.

“It’s really expensive to be poor,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers, whose city is participating in the initiative, named Pathway to Income Equity.

Many low-income families are going deeper into debt or falling behind on their bills as they try to cope with the high cost of living in Sonoma County, supporters say.

The program “recognizes that and gives families a helping hand,” Rogers said.

Pathway to Income Equity is funded by a coalition of local governments and nonprofits who have raised $5.4 million to fund the program. Partners include Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Corazon Healdsburg and First 5 Sonoma County.

Families with children 5 and under, who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and who meet the income requirements are eligible.

Applications opened Sept. 1, and nearly 300 families from across Sonoma County applied that day, First 5 executive director Angie Dillon-Shore said. Applications are due by midnight October 31 for the lottery that will select participating families.

The strong interest speaks to the needs of the community, Dillon-Shore said.

“I hope the families that we are able to support, the majority are able to use these funds in a way that helps them progress in the long term,” she said.

“A giant blow against poverty”

A study published by United Way of California in 2021 found that 52% of Sonoma County households with children under the age of 6 struggled to meet basic needs before the pandemic.

People of diverse racial backgrounds have been disproportionately affected, with Black, Latino, Asian and Native American households accounting for 70% of households struggling to meet the needs despite making up just one-third of the county’s population.

The pandemic has exacerbated economic pressures on many families as thousands of jobs have been lost.

First 5, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit focused on child development, began exploring ways to fight poverty, prioritizing programs that could help improve financial security for families in low income during the pandemic. Rogers in Santa Rosa and elected officials in the area were also having similar conversations.

One idea that emerged was a guaranteed basic income program, versions of which have gained popularity in California and across the country during the pandemic. A a universal program funded by oil revenues was implemented in Alaska for decades.

The pandemic made it possible to launch a local program.

More than 90% of Pathway to Income Equity’s funding came from one-time federal pandemic relief funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March 2021 to help the United States recover from the effects of COVID- 19, the coalition said.

“It was a unique opportunity to take a giant step against poverty and especially children who live in poverty to try to break the cycle of generational poverty,” Rogers said. “It’s not often that we have the resources to do something as ambitious as this.”

Proof of benefits for families

Funding is expected to land in participating families’ accounts beginning in January and they will receive monthly payments until December 2024.

The coalition chose to focus on families with young children in an attempt to address generational poverty and the impact of financial instability on children.

One proven answer is to raise the cash income floor for families, Dillon-Shore said.

Providing a guaranteed monthly allowance, with no strings attached, can help families bridge monthly funding gaps and studies have shown it allows families to work overtime, provide a second income or parents to return to school. school because they can afford childcare or transportation. , Rogers said.

It can help families lower their monthly bills, buy groceries or gas at a time when the cost of goods has increased, and hopefully get to a place where they can pay off their debts and saving, he said.

Dillon-Shore, Rogers and other supporters hope the program helps reduce stress and anxiety, boost family well-being and effective parenting.

This then contributes to better early childhood development, which contributes to better long-term educational outcomes, better physical and mental health, and reduced crime, they said.

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