New income program gives checks to Silicon Valley families
Destination: Home is providing eligible Santa Clara County families a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month for two years. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

    Some of Santa Clara County’s most vulnerable families are receiving $1,000 checks starting this week—the first of many.

    The Silicon Valley Guaranteed Income Program is giving 150 families $1,000 a month with no strings attached for two years. The program, run by housing nonprofit Destination: Home, prioritizes homeless and marginalized families while studying the effects of universal basic income on housing stability, local leaders said.

    Between 10 to 15 households will receive payments this week. Chad Bojorquez, Destination: Home’s chief program officer, said qualifying families are still being contacted, with the goal to have all 150 receiving funds by early next year. Private funding from Google, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Sobrato Philanthropies and others makes the program possible.

    “We know that people need money to stabilize their situation,” Bojorquez told San José Spotlight. “We just know that even if they have support with housing, or food stamps or cash assistance, they’re barely scraping by.”

    Destination: Home is working with the Sí Se Puede Collective, Sacred Heart Community Service and UpTogether on the income program, as well as UC San Francisco and the Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing. Bojorquez said the program conducted an extensive process to identify eligible households, working with the county and Sí Se Puede Collective to find families facing extreme financial insecurity and homelessness.

    The guaranteed income will not impact any financial aid families are already receiving, Bojorquez said. The program will have a control group of an additional 150 families to compare against participants.

    Universal basic income—giving people a set amount of money on a regular basis to supplement existing income—is being tested across Silicon Valley. Mountain View is piloting sending $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.

    Oanh Kieu Nguyen, a physician-researcher at the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, said guaranteed income could be a major way to address homelessness nationwide. Local researchers will survey participants every six months, looking at factors such as guaranteed income’s impact on financial well-being, housing stability and physical health.

    “(This) will be among the first U.S. based studies of guaranteed income as a homelessness mitigation strategy,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight.

    Santa Clara County is home to more than 10,000 homeless residents, likely an undercount as final results from a survey done earlier this year have yet to be published. The county saw a 3% growth in its unhoused population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeless deaths continue to spike year after year, and 14 unhoused residents died on the streets in September alone.

    Sí Se Puede Collective Director Gabriel Hernandez said the guaranteed income project prioritizes minority families and women-led households—a reflection of the disproportionate housing and financial insecurity that communities of color faced during the pandemic. The impact was exacerbated for undocumented families who could not access federal stimulus checks and other government aid, he said. Guaranteed income could be a reprieve, especially for East San Jose families made up of essential workers.

    “(It’s) the resilience of these families in creating their own networks and figuring out how to maintain their families even in a place as expensive as San Jose,” Hernandez told San José Spotlight. “If they receive this kind of funding, how does that impact them? Does it help them pay the rent, does it help them feed their children?”

    Universal basic income could address the legacy of systemic racism, Hernandez said, such as redlining policies that prevented people of color from obtaining home loans and purchasing property. Families of color make up 87% of the guaranteed income program’s participants.

    The project could lead to widespread policy changes and more government support for guaranteed income, Bojorquez said.

    “Our long-term goal is to really change our culture in this area and in the country around our willingness to give people money directly,” Bojorquez said.

    Editor’s Note: Destination: Home CEO Jen Loving serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors. 

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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