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Marin County Tries a Universal Basic Income Program

The California county unanimously approved trial of a guaranteed minimum wage program. The first cohort of 125 low-income, non-white mothers will receive $1,000 monthly payments for the next two years.

(TNS) — Marin County, Calif., supervisors have allocated $400,000 to participate in a universal basic income experiment with the Marin Community Foundation.

The foundation plans to spend $3 million to give $1,000 a month to 125 low-income women for 24 months. To qualify, the women must have a child under the age of 18.

"The ultimate endgame for this demonstration project is to have an example of how cash aid can be really helpful in terms of alleviating poverty, to test the usefulness of this approach to addressing poverty and addressing some of the racial inequities that we know exist in the county and beyond," Johnathan Logan, a foundation vice president, told the Board of Supervisors before the unanimous vote on Tuesday.

To some degree, the project is modeled on the 24-month trial conducted in Stockton from February 2019 to February 2020. But unlike the Stockton program, the Marin initiative will be limited to non-White women. Thomas Peters, the foundation's chief executive, confirmed the restriction. "This first cohort will focus on low-income moms of color," he said in an email. "We're starting with those moms with the greatest aggregate of challenges: low income, young children and facing the daily travails and insults of overt and covert racial discrimination."

In addition to Logan, Barbara Clifton Zarate, the foundation's director of economic opportunity, and Anyania Muse, Marin County's equity officer, briefed the supervisors.

Zarate said participants in the foundation's universal basic income trial will be elected at random from among 4,600 people who have already received direct cash aid from the foundation with the help of the Family Independence Initiative.

FII, an Oakland nonprofit, issues payments to recipients by directly depositing money into their bank accounts or issuing them a debit card or virtual card that can be used online. Since the onset of the pandemic, the foundation has used FII to distribute more than $1.2 million.

Announcing that program in August, Peters said the goal was to give $500 to 2,000 families, with priority for people who were ineligible to benefit from federal programs.

Oakland, which announced its own experiment with the universal basic income on Tuesday, will also be partnering with FII to give $500 a month to six hundred Oakland families for 18 months.

Zarate said to be eligible for the Marin Community Foundation program, participants would have to have earnings below the self-sufficiency standard for Marin County as calculated by the Insight Center for Economic Development, an Oakland nonprofit. For example, a household with two adults, one preschool child and one school-age child could earn up to $129,000 a year.

Zarate said the people eligible for the program all live in four areas of Marin: San Rafael's predominantly Latino Canal neighborhood; Marin City, where the majority of Marin's African American residents live; Novato; and West Marin.

Although he voted to approve the expenditure, Supervisor Damon Connolly expressed reservations about the eligibility requirements. He represents most of San Rafael but not the Canal neighborhood.

"When I hear the geographic specificity, I'm hearing my district, District 1, is not included," Connolly said. "I know there are many single moms who would otherwise fit the criteria for the need and opportunity presented by this program."

Another important difference between the Marin Community Foundation's demonstration project and other universal basic income experiments is that it will offer additional "wrap-around" services to participants. Logan said such services might include job training and assistance in securing work that pays a living wage.

Logan said that before embarking on the project, the foundation interviewed more than 90 low-income Marin mothers.

"Many had two or three jobs in the county," he said, "but they weren't always in a position to make ends meet."

Marin County's $400,000 contribution to the program would be used to help pay for these services and also to cushion the blow should participants lose government assistance they are currently receiving due to their increased income.

Zarate said the foundation is attempting to get state welfare agencies to grant exceptions to participants in its program. She said Stockton was able to obtain a waiver from income requirements from CalWORKs, a public assistance program that provides cash aid and services to eligible families with a child.

The supervisors' decision to spend $400,000 on the trial comes amid budget hearings and strategy discussions about growing deficits. Nevertheless, County Administrator Matthew Hymel voiced his support for the county's participation in the project.

"We have a shared mission around addressing racial equity and reducing poverty," Hymel said.

Public comment at Tuesday's board meeting was mostly positive.

"This is a great start," said Charlene Eldon, a Sausalito resident. "Black people in Marin City and the county at large are owed reparations."

Muse, the county's equity officer, noted that the City Council of Evanston, Illinois, voted on Tuesday to pay reparations of $25,000 per family to African Americans.

"What is happening really needs to be highlighted as a critical turning point," Muse said. "It's a start; it's nowhere near where people need to be."

(c)2021 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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