California’s Universal Basic Income Experiment Headed to Gov. Newsom for Signature

Universal basic income was championed by Martin Luther King Jr., promoted by Silicon Valley citizens as the "social vaccine for the 21st century" and endorsed by 2016 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, but it has never really caught on.

Now its time may have come.

California lawmakers last week approved the nation's first state-funded guaranteed income program. Once the bill is signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, cities and counties can apply for funding from a $35 million pool to support current or new pilots that prioritize foster youth who recently left the foster care system and pregnant mothers. The White House has also rolled out a form of guaranteed income in its new expanded Child Tax Credit that is part of the pandemic relief package.

The state program comes on the heels of local efforts in the Bay Area and Stockton. Over the last two years, Santa Clara County, Oakland, Marin County and San Francisco started one- to two-year basic income programs that offer participants between $500 and $1,000 guaranteed dollars every month with no strings attached. Those programs are largely funded by private donations.

The surge in support for guaranteed income is being credited to the wealth and racial inequalities revealed by COVID-19, as job losses hit low-income and minority workers the hardest.

The pandemic “took the blinders off of what it means to live on the margins,” said Los Angeles county supervisor Holly Mitchell, a member of Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a national group that has grown from 11 member cities to over 50 in the last year. “Everyone saw it.”

The Bay Area basic income initiatives are focused on raising artists, mothers or minorities out of poverty. The Santa Clara County program, which helps foster youth, helped lay the groundwork for the statewide program.

“Cities are the laboratories of democracy,” said Sukhi Samra, director of the mayors’ group, who hopes the pilots in Santa Clara County and across California will “provide a proof of concept” for federal policies.

The new wave of basic income initiatives is an alternative to government assistance programs that were "very prescriptive about doling out social services," said state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, who started Santa Clara County's income program for foster youth as a county supervisor. “It really had a mentality of ‘we know what's best for you weaker, poorer people.’ ”

Critics of guaranteed income worry that free money, similar to unemployment benefits, will discourage participants from working. “There's a pretty plausible case to be made that the more generous you make unemployment benefits, the less anxious people are going to be to get back to work,” said Matt Zwolinski, director of the Center for Ethics, Economics and Public Policy at the University of San Diego.

Universal basic income supporters point to Stockton’s 2019 program, the first in the state, which found that full-time employment among participants increased by 12 percent in the program's first year. Participants, who received $1,000 monthly from 2019 to 2021, reported greater financial stability month to month. That enabled them to buy the necessary food, pay off unexpected costs, and increase their overall wellbeing.

Zwolinski worries that the pilots’ one to two-year timeframes limit the evidence researchers can pull from the data.

“The pilot programs are worth doing. They provide some level of evidence,” he said, but “there's always going to be a leap of faith involved in jumping from a pilot program to say a full city-wide program to a full statewide program.”

Santa Clara County’s pilot program provides $1,000 a month to 72 foster youth. The programs either randomly select eligible residents or pull from an applicant pool.

One recipient of Santa Clara’s program was Veronica Vieyra, a recent San Jose State University graduate.

In March 2020, Vieyra was surviving on a $1,100 monthly stipend from an internship with iFoster, an organization supporting foster youth. Kicked out of the dorms as COVID-19 spread across California, her monthly expenses for rent, car insurance, and phone left her with $280 for food and gas. The 25-year-old's grades plummeted and she fell into a new living routine.

“If I sleep I don't have so much to worry about,” she remembered thinking. “I actually save money because then I won't have to eat as much.” Vieyra planned to return to the job at Safeway she worked before college, delaying her graduation.

When Vieyra received her first payment at the end of the summer, “The first thing I felt was like, I'm going to pay my rent.” She paid two months ahead.

“I was like, that feels so good.”

With greater free time, Vieyra attended after-hours tutoring for the classes she had failed the year before, graduating with a degree in public health. She hopes to work with foster youth.

“If it wasn't for the program, I'd probably be going back to Safeway,” she said.

Jesse Bedayn is a reporter with CalMatters.This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.



  1. Gavin Newsom pretending to give a sh*% just before an election. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid people. RecallGavin2020.

  2. I didn’t even bother criticizing when I read this article.

    So long as it’s not federal money or the state gets in trouble later while doing this, and expects the feds to bail them out, as with pension underfunding along with over-promising, and other failures the state itself is committing…

    It’s likely not to grow, and also likely to diminish, after the recall election, anyway.

  3. You can tell that HB/Kulak is agitated when his various bots send in comments separated by less than a few hours. Assless, HBO and Sucker all responded within one hour this time. Papa Bot Kulak must have lots of time on his hands and must be particularly incensed at this tepid and timid neoliberal experiment that might lead to more public support for a small, restricted group of people in dire need.

    As long as Peter’s individual annual income is greater than $250,000 per year and/or his net wealth is above $2 million, Peter will never know the difference. Additional income and/or wealth taxes won’t change Peter’s lifestyle one iota. On the other hand, Paul will be able to eat better, more readily cope with the predations of his boss and landlord, live with reduced levels of stress and be able to sleep better and breath easier.

  4. Here is the beginning of the end. when we pay people NOT to work – less goods get produced. this drives up costs for goods causing inflation, making everything more expensive – including for the guy/gal sitting home w/ their handout.

    The great thing about capitalism is it is NOT about cutting the pie into ever-smaller pieces – – so that everyone gets a piece of pie — – the answer is – – – MAKE MORE PIE!

  5. Will there be a requirement for pregnant mothers to provide accurate (DNA verifiable) information about the biological father, in order to facilitate repayment of support? Or will we, in this age of readily available birth control, allow reckless and indiscriminate women force paternal responsibility onto the backs of responsible taxpayers?

  6. Facendo Guaio, you’re naivete is charming. How many turnip trucks do you need to fall off the back of before you finally figure things out you hayseed?
    Newsome’s doing a good job of training and conditioning the lazy class to continue to be dependent. Meanwhile, immigrants who are willing to actually work for a living are starting out in low paying jobs, working hard for a few years, learning skills that lead to better paying positions or running their own businesses, and are the ones Newsome’s losers are dependent upon for the tax revenue to support their self deception and enabling them to languish in limbo for the rest of their lives, never having been motivated to develop any skills in order to contribute to society.

  7. But I will give some credit to that innocent child Facendo Guaio. He’s right on one point. He claims that the middle to high earners won’t notice any difference in their lives because of the money Biden gives to people for not working. That’s true. Brownie point for Facendo Guaio!
    Nobody will notice the difference between the reality that could have been and the reality that Biden is determined to inflict on us. Nobody will ever have the opportunity to experience the world in which trillions of dollars are spent on projects that will actually improve our country and the world, but instead are wasted on encouraging and enabling millions of Americans to sit on their ass and complain.

  8. I read the article before there were any comments, chose not to make one at first, then returned after others have done it. I don’t need anyone who often gets even basic facts wrong and mocks his or her betters on here, ironically, accusing me or anyone else of being at others’ whims. That’s just getting more facts wrong as well as behaving poorly, again. [sigh]

    Newsom is trying to score progressive political cred points by dabbling with this guaranteed income concept, which the lib kids think are something new and fabulous (as well as a few oddball others in tech), when it, the related loss of jobs to technology, and enabling people to reach higher existential planes, and reject unpleasant or merely undesired work, in the 1960s. It appeals greatly to many on the farther left, especially the “free money” idea, also “freeing” people from work. (even more than “sharing the abundance” that was also included in the 1960s, for example) It’s also a kind of allowance for kids, of course.

    This is just vote-buying and progressive points earning by the governor.

  9. They won’t die from ODs, HB; they’ll be amazing the world with what great artists so many are, or creators of other things, with so much time available to them.

    (Argued in the 1960s, at least — it’s more lightweight and degenerate now.)

  10. Mr Trouble

    actually I havent chimed in yet but I will now since you asked so nicely

    first, this is going to a handful of people, so it looks more like a publicity stunt than a real program

    second, in the aggregate, this money will end up in the landlord’s pocket along with increases in the minmum wage, etc. Well maybe in Walmart’s and Amazon’s shareholders pockets too.

    and once this hits more critical mass, it will drive up all market rents, so landlords will pocket a multiple of dollars ubi’ed, thanks!

    third, once the fed gov bails out CA, it will just increase the debt balance which could possibly lead to some inflation. since landlords dont pay tax, youll being servicing that debt and as far as inflation goes, its just going to discount my debt service on the property youll being paying more rent on, you know voodoo economics

    so, as far as Im concerned, this is good news

    now, its not so good news for tenants, people with a large cash position, or on a pension/dependent on social security (the fed gov likes to hide inflation to save on that cola)

    and since Im not any of those, I didnt see the need to comment,

    but as I have pointed out many times in the past welfare is not the transfer of wealth from the makers to the takers, but from the middle class to the uber rich

  11. “Shouldn’t this be something we vote on?” — Dave

    How to get on Biden’s White Supremacist’s List in ten words or less.

  12. We have Newsom with a net worth of $20 million, and Pelosi with a net worth of $100 million.

    And, as reported in the Los Angele Times, which includes Pelosi, CA members of congress (Khanna, $27 million net worth) have a cumulative net worth of $439 million.

    Then, all of these very elite representatives, like many liberal politicians, pretend they “know what it’s like and keep it real,” and throw peanuts at the poor people to keep them quiet. Not happy. Quiet, and supportive. They tell us to “stay at home” while they get their hair did, mask-less indoors, or go to the French Laundry for a $400 meal. They are not leaders, they are frauds and manipulators.

    CA has an super elite, 1%, running the state, making the laws – and living in gated communities with private security while the state completely falls apart. This UBI pilot is an insult, and another effort for politicians to keep the low-income exactly where they are, and voting a certain way. You see this format in progressive cities all throughout the county…where the most liberal mindsets create the most homeless, worst schools and highest cost of living.

    The worst thing CA can do is to continue to keep people in poverty, and this state needs actual leaders – as policies like this, regardless of what you’re told, is counter-productive to a household thinking about increasing personal self-sufficiency and accountability…it gets people even more dependent on the state in many cases.

    If anything, issue this money to the elderly living on fixed incomes, or individuals with disabilities trying to make ends meet.

    I can guarantee they don’t have an effective measurement to track performance.

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