Oakland, Marin County to launch pilot programs for guaranteed income
Oakland, Calif. Mayor Libby Schaaf on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, announced a privately funded program that will give low-income families of color $500 per month with no rules on how they can spend it. The program in Oakland is the latest example of "guaranteed income," an idea that giving poor people a set amount of money each month will ease the stresses of poverty that contribute to poor health and hinder their ability to find full-time work. | Ben Margot / AP

OAKLAND, Calif.—Communities around the San Francisco Bay Area are joining or considering joining the growing movement to test the ways a guaranteed income can help to lift low-income families out of poverty.

At a virtual press conference March 23, Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that Oakland will soon launch one of the country’s largest guaranteed income pilot programs, providing 600 low-income Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) families with $500 each month, with no requirements about how to use the funds, for at least 18 months.

On the same day, the nearby Marin County Board of Supervisors announced plans to start a comparable program, and other cities including San Francisco and South San Francisco are thinking about joining in.

In Oakland, BIPOC families with at least one child under 18, and incomes at or below 50% of the area median income, around $59,000/year for a family of three, will be eligible to apply for half the spots, while the other half will be reserved for very-low-income families earning less than 138% of the Federal Poverty Level, or around $30,000/year for a family of three.

“The poverty we all witness today is not a personal failure,” Schaaf said, “it is a systems failure.” Calling guaranteed income “one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity, and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades,” she said she is proud to work with committed local partners to “build a new system that can help undo centuries of economic and racial injustice, and point us all toward a more just society.”

The project, called Oakland Resilient Families, is entirely funded through private donations and will be coordinated by the Oakland-based anti-poverty nonprofit Family Independence Initiative and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, launched by former Stockton, Calif., Mayor Michael Tubbs in June 2020. Family Independence Initiative CEO Jesus Gerena said some $6.75 million has already been raised to start the program.

Schaaf is one of the founding members of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

Oakland’s pilot is not only the largest so far, it is the first to limit eligibility to BIPOC communities. That decision reflected findings of the 2018 Oakland Equality Index, which showed that while median income for a white family was $110,000, for Black families it was under $37,500.

The program is to start in East Oakland this spring before opening to residents in other parts of the city and is expected to be in full swing by summer.

Following intensive multilingual community outreach efforts, participants will be randomly selected from applicants who meet the eligibility requirements.

City Councilmember Loren Taylor, whose district is in East Oakland, said as a representative from an area facing many challenges including economic disparities and “historic underinvestment,” he is “excited to see this innovative program coming to Oakland.”

Tubbs applauded Schaaf’s leadership, saying the program “will provide critical financial support to those hardest hit by systemic inequities, including the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color.”

In Marin County, the Board of Supervisors voted March 23 to join a two-year pilot program with the Marin Community Foundation, to provide $1,000 each month to 125 low-income women of color with a child younger than 18. The Foundation is allocating $3 million for the program, and the county will provide $400,000 to help provide participants with optional wrap-around services such as job training and help in obtaining a living-wage job.

Barbara Clifton Zarate, the Foundation’s director of economic development, said participants will be selected at random from among 4,600 women it has previously provided with direct cash aid. She said those eligible live in four areas: Novato, West Marin, the largely Latinx Canal neighborhood in San Rafael, and Marin City, home to most of the county’s Black residents.

Both programs, as well as a number of initiatives emerging around the country, draw on the highly successful Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED, launched by then-Stockton, Calif. Mayor Michael Tubbs in 2019, which in turn led to the founding of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income by Tubbs and 11 other mayors including Schaaf, in June 2020. Some 40 mayors of cities including Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, and San Antonio now participate in Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

Tubbs, who lost his bid for reelection to a Republican candidate in November, is now California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Special Advisor for Economic Mobility and Opportunity.

The Stockton program, which was the first mayor-led guaranteed initiative in the U.S., gave 125 low-income Stockton residents $500/month for 24 months, with no requirements about using the funds.

Among findings from SEED’s first year:

  •  Recipients went from part-time to full-time employment at more than twice the rate of a nonparticipant control group. They also found more work—unemployment dropped by 4%.
  •  Recipients were less anxious and depressed, both over time and compared to the control group.
  •  People spent the funds on basic needs, including nearly 37% on food. Less than 1% was spent on alcohol and/or tobacco.
  •  One year into the program, recipients had a greater ability to pay for unexpected expenses.


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.