Santa Clara County families benefit from guaranteed income, report shows
Dozens of people wait in line for food at Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose on Nov. 22, 2022. Photo by Joseph Geha.

A new report bolsters the importance of guaranteed basic income programs as a lifeline for families in Santa Clara County who can’t afford the necessities.

More than a quarter of working families in the county do not make enough money to cover their basic needs, according to a recent study from Joint Venture Silicon Valley. The study shows subsidizing those families with monthly payments from $500 to $2,000 could bring a significant number of them out of economic hardship.

Rachel Massaro, vice president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said pandemic relief money temporarily lifted some 12 million families out of poverty nationwide.

“Even very small amounts (of money) can make a huge difference for some households in our community,” Massaro told San José Spotlight.

If low-income families received monthly payments of $1,000, the income inadequacy rate, local economic hardship would drop from 26% to 22%, the study shows. Massaro said when the amount increases between $1,500 and $2,000, economic hardship drops even lower to 19% and 17%, respectively.

Only 4.6% of Santa Clara County households are below the federal poverty line, according to the study. Yet the high cost of living in Silicon Valley leaves families unable to afford basic necessities, including housing and child care. Massaro said the study’s “self-sufficiency standard,” a measurement of what income working families need depending on household size, children’s ages and local cost of living, among other factors, captures Silicon Valley families’ diverse circumstances.

“Up to $2,000, which may seem like a lot of money, is meant to illustrate a place we may find ourselves in in the very near future … (this amount may) have the kind of impact our policymakers are looking for,” Massaro told San José Spotlight.

Other guaranteed basic income initiatives are being tested across Silicon Valley. Mountain View is piloting a program that gives $500 checks to the city’s low-income families. Similar programs have already been started across California in cities such as Stockton and Oakland.

Santa Clara County pioneered a first-in-the-nation universal basic income program for foster youth facing housing and job insecurity in 2020, and is working to create a similar program for homeless high school seniors. The monthly funds could offer a lifeline for struggling residents amid incremental minimum wage increases, rising living costs and unaffordable housing.

San Jose is behind on its affordable housing goals while market rate housing has flourished and prices continue to rise. There are 29 homes for every 100 extremely low-income households in the San Jose metro area, according to the city’s housing report.

Destination: Home is also midway through administering a guaranteed basic income program giving $1,000 a month with no strings attached to 150 Santa Clara County families for two years. Another 150 families are in a control group, and the program will be studied by UCSF’s Beinoff Homeless and Housing Initiative to provide more data on the effectiveness of guaranteed basic income on reducing poverty.

Chad Bojorquez, chief program officer at Destination: Home, told San José Spotlight the nonprofit’s extensive work in homelessness prevention has shown that families on the border of being unhoused don’t make enough money to cover their rent.

“People’s rents are too high, and they don’t make enough money. That’s the No. 1 contributing factor for people falling into homelessness,” Bojorquez told San José Spotlight. “(There’s no) judgment on how they’re going to spend their money … people are just living on the edge and money is what’s missing.”

Contact Ben at [email protected] or follow @B1rwin on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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