Oakland Launches Funding Program For Low-Income Families

Oakland’s mayor announced Tuesday (March 23) the launch of a privately funded program that will provide low-income families of color $500 a month with no rules on how they can spend the money. 

The program is the latest “guaranteed income” experiment. This idea gives a set amount of money to low-income people to help ease the stresses of poverty that often lead to poor health and hinder their ability to find full-time work.

The first program in California similar to Oakland’s was started in 2019 in Stockton. It was launched by former Mayor Michael Tubbs, who founded the group Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, the program was an example that inspired six similar ones that are expected to launch in other cities by summertime.

“We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence, and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said, according to ABC13.

The Oakland Resilient Families program has so far raised $6.75 million from private donors including national philanthropy group Blue Meridian Partners. Eligible people must have at least one child under 18 and income at or below 50 percent of the area median income, which is about $59,000 per year for a family of three.

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Half of the eligible spots are reserved for people who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which works out to be about $30,000 per year for a family of three. Participants in the program will be randomly selected from a pool of applicants who meet the requirements.

To this point, the Oakland Resilient Families program is one of the largest efforts in the United States, targeting up to 600 families. It’s also the first program to limit participation strictly to Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.

“Guaranteed income has been a goal of the Black Panther platform since its founding,” said Jesús Gerena, CEO of Family Independence Initiative, which is partnering with the program in Oakland, according to ABC13. “Direct investment in the community in response to systemic injustices isn’t new.”

Critics of the program worry about the elimination of other safety net programs, like Social Security and food stamps. But Schaaf guaranteed “the social safety net programs must remain.”

“We believe that those safety net programs should not go away, but should be supplemented with unconditional cash that gives families the dignity and flexibility to meet their needs,” she said.

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