Santa Clara County Launches Basic Income Program for Foster Youth

Young adults aging out of the child welfare system set to receive $1000 a month

The Mercury News | July 27, 2020
By: Laurence Du Sault

Dozens of young adults about to age out of Santa Clara County’s foster care system were given $1,000 cash payments on Monday as part of the county’s new basic income program — the first of its kind in the nation.

“We’re saying ‘do whatever you need to do to be whole and healthy’,” said District 3 Supervisor Dave Cortese, who launched the initiative.

Santa Clara County’s program is the first in the country to distribute a basic income to young adults, aged 21 to 24, who are exiting the foster care system. Budgeted at $900,000, the yearlong pilot program will give $1,000 monthly payments to the 72 young adults who are transitioning out of its child welfare system and will have to secure housing and a job on their own.

“Youth in foster care don’t have the support anybody would need to leave their parents’ house,” said former county foster youth Nayeli Grano at a press conference Monday. “Yet the same day you turn 18, you need a plan ready if you don’t want to be homeless.” Grano, 23, won’t be part of the program.

California has 83,000 foster children and youth under the care of its child welfare system. About half graduate high school, 40 percent experience homelessness within 18 months of leaving the system, and 40 percent are unemployed by age 24, according to the California Court Appointed Special Advocate Association.

“When there’s no one to turn to for help, the UBI will help our former foster youth remain housed and fed today so that they can succeed tomorrow,” said Child Advocates of Silicon Valley CEO Frederick J. Ferrer in a statement. “We know firsthand how hard they work to overcome the incredible employment and housing challenges Silicon Valley presents.”

The initiative was fast-forwarded by the coronavirus pandemic, which made it even more arduous for young adults to secure housing and employment. “The last thing you want is 72 young adults wandering around from place to place when they should be securely sheltered,” said Cortese.

The COVID-19 pandemic is reigniting talks about universal basic income. Just last month, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs launched Mayors for Guaranteed Income, an initiative bringing together mayors from around the country in advocating for federal and local cash payment policies. At the state level, Democratic assemblymember Evan Low introduced a proposal in February to give $1,000 a month to every Californian.

In Santa Clara, the idea was brought to Cortese by Gisele Huff, president of the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, a nonprofit funding basic income projects across the country. “Transitioning foster youth are often let loose in the world without help at all,” said Huff. “They’re one of the many marginalized populations that would benefit from UBI.”

Most of the services foster children receive while in government care end when they turn 21. California Sen. Jim Beall is pushing to extend care through age 25 for those who exit the system during a state of emergency, but for now, those over 21 are no longer dependents of the county and have to make it on their own.

Cortese says the services offered by governments, nonprofits, and private programs aren’t doing enough. He hopes giving out money with no strings attached will empower young adults and show the county’s trust and investment in their future. The program also offers financial coaching to the recipients.

The hope is that the one-year pilot program will be replicated elsewhere in the country. Cortese is still looking for a public-private partnership that would allow him to expand the pilot program for future years and beyond foster youth. “This is a business model as well as a humanitarian effort,” said Cortese.

This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California.

View this article in The Mercury News.