.Sonoma County launches guaranteed income pilot program

Selected families will receive $500 per month for the next two years

With ever-rising costs, it’s no secret that many of the North Bay’s working families are struggling to get by.

A 2021 study by United Ways of California found that 52% of Sonoma County families with children younger than six struggled to pay for basic necessities.

Now, in an effort to help in the short term and inform future efforts, local governments have launched the Pathway to Income Equity pilot program. Starting this month, 305 Sonoma County families will receive $500 monthly checks as part of a two-year guaranteed income experiment.

That cash is nowhere near enough to live on, but organizers of the project hope the payments will give low-income families more stability, allowing parents to search for better-paying work while supporting their childrens’ education.

“These payments will help families with young children who are often struggling under the double burden of the high costs of housing and child care—typically the two highest household expenses,” Chris Coursey, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “The information we gain from this pilot program will help shape future efforts to improve the health and welfare of our community.”

Selected families had to meet a number of criteria, including having suffered economic setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, having a household income below $51,338 for a family of four and having a child six years old or younger.

Competition for the spots was stiff. In two months, over 6,400 families applied, with 2,383 meeting eligibility requirements.

Angie Dillon-Shore, executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, a public agency focused on early childhood development, said that the level of interest in the program shows how many hard-working families are struggling to get by.

“The idea that giving people cash is a disincentive to work is a myth. Most of our selected recipients are already working, many working more than one job or more than 40 hours a week just to survive,” Dillon-Shore said. “This extra income will allow them to spend more time with their families, find a better job or improve their financial wellbeing, resulting in better outcomes for their kids.”

The pilot program will cost $5.4 million and is a partnership between First 5, the county, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg. The vast majority of the funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, the 2021 pandemic stimulus bills.

With interest in universal basic income growing, more than 12,000 Californians are currently receiving monthly, no-strings-attached checks through over 40 pilot programs, CalMatters reported this month.

More information about the program is available at www.sonomapie.org.

Will Carruthershttp://www.wrcarruthers.com
Will Carruthers is the news editor of the Pacific Sun and North Bay Bohemian. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Carruthers_W.

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