Universal Basic Income for Poverty-Stricken Families Coming Soon to Yolo County

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By Macy Lu 

DAVIS — Universal Basic Income (UBI), a government program that once only existed in faraway Nordic countries, will soon arrive in Yolo County. Spearheading the pilot project is the director of the Health and Human Services Agency in Yolo County, Nolan Sullivan, who predicts the program might become operational as early as July 2021. 

With UBI, a government–in this case Yolo County–would offer all citizens of a given population a periodic payment with as few strings as possible. Its general goal is to buoy those in precarious situations above the poverty line while they try to get back on their feet. 

There are only a handful of other places across the country that have piloted such a program, including Stockton and Compton in California and Jackson, Mississippi. 

Each program’s allocation system varies depending on their target population. For example, the one in Compton typically focuses on “unbanked, formerly incarcerated and undocumented” people while the one in Jackson is geared towards Black mothers in extreme poverty. Yolo County’s would focus on poverty-stricken households with young children. 

“It’s not a super popular concept in the United States,” Sullivan admitted, which is why he is passionate about ensuring the project’s success and encouraging its effect to ripple beyond Yolo County’s borders. “I’m hoping the state or maybe Governor Newsom sees this and they adopt it. Fingers crossed.” 

To justify why Yolo County is the ideal place to pilot an UBI program, Sullivan first highlighted the county’s “shocking” poverty rate of 20.6 percent, the third highest in the state, behind Santa Barbara at 21.1 percent and Los Angeles at 22.3 percent. 

“That is not a place to be proud of or a place to be happy about,” he solemnly noted before moving on to his second reason, which is Yolo County’s unique geographical and demographic composition. 

Sullivan stated, “Why not start in a county like Yolo County, that’s not teeny, but we’re not big…a really good use case to really study how these projects actually implement in different societies. We’re a pretty diverse community as well.”  

Membership in the CalWORKS Housing Support Program (HSP) will be the preliminary factor in deciding which families qualify for UBI. HSP families are either homeless or have received an order of eviction from a court while lacking access to permanent shelter. 

“The really amazing thing about the CalWORKS HSP program,” explained Sullivan, “is that we can pay just about whatever it takes to get you housed and stable…Whatever a homeless family needs to get back on their feet, the state allows us to purchase this under the HSP program.” 

The only downside to the CalWORKS, in Sullivan’s opinion, is that it does not include undocumented families and to him “that is devastating in Yolo County.” 

Originally, Yolo County’s model aimed to only target HSP families with children two years or younger; however, impressed with the potential of the program, the Board of Supervisors has recently voted to broaden the qualification to HSP families with children five years or younger. 

A 2019 census reported that there are 11,418 children in Yolo County under five years of age. Of that population, 704 (6.1 percent) depend on CalWORKS for their basic needs, and of that subset, 48 are HSP families that have already been identified as potential recipients of UBI. 

“I would argue to this group and to any other group that these [48 families] are the most needy, the most at risk, the most impoverished children in Yolo County,” emphasized Sullivan. “This is the front line, the tip of the spear, this is the target group that we would focus on.”

Acknowledging that each household differs in terms of number of members and demographics, Sullivan explained that the program would vary the payments based on the number of members in a household. 

The way payment is calculated depends on an index called the California Poverty Measure (CPM) that “improves upon conventional poverty measures” by accounting for the living expenditures, housing costs, and resources available to low-income families across geographical regions. 

The goal of the UBI program is to close the gap between the grant HSP families get from CalWORKS and the minimum poverty threshold as indicated by the CPM index. 

For example, the CalWORKS maximum grant would offer a family of four $13,465 each year (or $1,122 each month); however, the CPM dictates that to avoid poverty, the family needs at least $25,658 each year. To help them meet the minimum threshold, the UBI program would cover the $12,155 difference. 

In addition to assisting these 48 Yolo County families, the pilot also aims to create a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of the program. 

“What happens if you take a family that is living in poverty with a zero to two year old, and you pull them above the CPM for a full year?” is the question Sullivan hopes to answer by the end of the pilot. 

Some variables the program plans to compare pre-and post-UBI include the health status of the overall family, the adults’ pursuit of higher education and attainment of long-term careers, and the amount of time parents are able to spend bonding with their children. 

For now, the biggest hurdle facing the UBI program is funding. 

Originally anticipating it would be a one year pilot, Sullivan was planning for a budget of $500,000. That figure escalated to $2.2 million after Yolo County recently decided to extend the pilot to two years. 

“If any of you guys have friends or agencies or nonprofits or a rich uncle that would like to sponsor something like this in Yolo County, we are actively looking for donors and people that want to contribute,” said Sullivan. 

The evaluation process will account for the largest slice of the budget, Sullivan noted. In his initial discussion with UC Davis researchers, he was “sticker shocked” by the cost of an evaluation. 

“I thought I’d come in with $26,000 and they would be impressed, but they said, no it’s more like a million,” he joked. 

Since state officials would rely on the data collected in deciding how to implement similar programs, the evaluation is not something that can be easily dismissed. In fact, it is so critical to the program’s success that Sullivan claimed, “if I can’t prove it with an empirical study and data to replicate it, I think I’ve failed.” 

On the bright side, the program has managed to secure a number of “amazing partners so far.” Family Independence Initiative will run all of its payment processings while CommuniCare health centers will monitor the families’ health outcomes. 

Furthermore, after learning that five of the 48 eligible families are in Davis, the Social Services Commission unanimously voted earlier this week to ask City Council to consider pulling $50,000 from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to support those five households. 

With that extra boost, Sullivan will have reached $400,000, about a quarter of the way to the $2.2 million finish line. Despite the herculean task ahead, Sullivan felt “confident” he would be able to at least reach half that amount and launch the program by July 1, 2021.  

Macy is a junior from Orange County, CA, studying Communications and English at UC Davis. She loves meeting people, reading books, and writing creatively.

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2 thoughts on “Universal Basic Income for Poverty-Stricken Families Coming Soon to Yolo County”

  1. Alan Miller

    Universal Basic Income for Poverty-Stricken Families Coming Soon to Yolo County

    Um, no, it’s not.  Universal means universal.  That means everyone gets it.  This is yet another form of subsidy and welfare masquerading as something it’s not, but it does allow those in charge of the funds to decide who is ‘worthy’.   Nor is a pilot program UBI.  Nor is anything funded by a grant.  Calling something UBI just because the grant says it’s a ‘UBI Pilot’ is just a disingenuous lie.

    Also, as a grant, like with all things that should never be funded with a grant, it goes away when the grant goes away.  Have you ever had a large and sudden decrease in your salary?  It’s pretty jarring, even when you see it coming.  Most adjust their lifestyle to their income.  So what happens when these 48 families suddenly have their supplemental income taken away?

    The other cynical view is it’s a sneaky way to try to get a subsidy made permanent, by then crying, ‘but we can’t take their money away now’.

    the program has managed to secure a number of “amazing partners so far.” Family Independence Initiative will run all of its payment processings while CommuniCare health centers will monitor the families’ health outcomes.

    Whoo!  Whoo!   Here comes the gravy train, “amazing partners”.  Get on board!

    To justify why Yolo County is the ideal place to pilot an UBI program, Sullivan first highlighted the county’s “shocking” poverty rate of 20.6 percent, the third highest in the state . . .

    Um, didn’t we figure out a couple of years ago that the reason Yolo County has such a high poverty rate is because of the high student population, since students show up as ‘poor’ in the statistics?  Perhaps I dreamed that.

    For now, the biggest hurdle facing the UBI program is funding. 

    Given everyone free money, not just 48 families, is a funding hurdle?  Blow me over with a feather, Gertrude!

    Originally anticipating it would be a one year pilot, Sullivan was planning for a budget of $500,000. That figure escalated to $2.2 million after Yolo County recently decided to extend the pilot to two years. 

    Pfffffffffffffft!

    “If any of you guys have friends or agencies or nonprofits or a rich uncle that would like to sponsor something like this in Yolo County, we are actively looking for donors and people that want to contribute,” said Sullivan.

    Yeah that’s rich 😐 .  Friends willing to contribute to $2.2 million just for the pilot.  Guess what, Rich uncles don’t give to government to run a program like this.  They might give to a charity with a high score at a charity-watch website.  They know that bureaucratic rathole this money is going to go down – and it isn’t going to end up with the families.  Where might it end up?  Read on . . .

    The evaluation process will account for the largest slice of the budget, Sullivan noted.

    In his initial discussion with UC Davis researchers, he was “sticker shocked” by the cost of an evaluation. 

    The bureaucrat was sticker shocked by what another beauracracy wanted to charge for a study?  That’s rich

    “I thought I’d come in with $26,000 and they would be impressed, but they said, no it’s more like a million,”

    Guess what, that’s a $1 million that won’t be going to poor families, but will be eaten by a bureaucracy to fund a study used to justify the continuation of a program that does things like, well, pay ridiculous amounts to subsidize a university by commissioning a study that will be used to fill out the forms to ask for more money for another grant to inefficiently misuse government as a horribly wasteful form of charity.  Congratuf*ckinglations.

    he joked.

    He JOKED ?!!!????   This is no joke.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Evaluation… by UCD…

      In his initial discussion with UC Davis researchers, he was “sticker shocked” by the cost of an evaluation. 

      They have a UUBI (yes, two ‘u’s), where UCD ‘researchers’ expect 5-10 X UBI as a University UBI, particularly for the administrators… the concept is worthy of a pilot effort, but I’ve always rejected charities (which UBI is, basically) that have fund-raising, admin/study costs over 10-15%… looks like this pilot project is ‘not ready for prime time yet’, if most $$$ go to ‘evaluation’ and/or ‘politicing’…

      Folks are hurting… some have had for years… many more due to Covid… I support relieving that ‘hurt’… but not at the fund-raising, admin/study costs, and not with the uncertainty of ‘sustainability’ in this proposal… Alan M makes some very good points as to that, as well…

      And our money is where my mouth is… am looking at our charitable contributions in 2020… doing taxes… all are ‘vetted’ as to programs, ‘boots on the ground’, vs admin/fundraising expenditures…

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