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California high school seniors experiencing homelessness could get $1,000 a month. Here’s how

If a new senate bill passes, California high school seniors experiencing homelessness could get $1,000 a month in guaranteed income to help with the transition into adulthood.

When Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, announced the idea of guaranteed basic income for college students in early 2022, he initially said the program might be targeted at students from families with the lowest incomes in the state at five colleges: Fresno State, Los Angeles, San Francisco State, CSU East Bay, and San Jose State. It would help bridge the gap between the actual cost of school and aid available to low-income students, such as Pell Grants, he said.

But by April, the proposal had morphed into a plan to instead offer the money to the 15,000 high school seniors in California each year who are categorized as homeless.

“Guaranteed income for students can actually disrupt the cycle of poverty for these students and put them on stable footing for the future,” said Teri Olle, California Campaign Director for Economic Security Project Action, which is sponsoring SB 1341.

If it passes, the California SOAR (Success, Opportunity, and Academic Resilience) Guaranteed Income Fund would be established.

The $1,000 would be available from April to August each year for students who fill out the FAFSA or Dream Act application, are in 12th grade and “lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” (as defined in the McKinney-Vento Act ).

The no-strings-attached income could not be counted as personal income for tax purposes, or when determining eligibility for financial aid or social services, such as Cal-Works, CalFresh, or Medi-Cal.

The problem with offering students cash, according to Olle, is that “it often comes at the expense of some other kind of assistance, meaning it’s nearly impossible to get above water,” she said.

According to census data, about 15,000 12th graders enrolled in school during the 2020-2021 academic year were considered homeless.

Only about half of those students typically enroll in college, according to data compiled by the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, but a majority would pursue college if faced with fewer barriers.

Within the California K-12 system, over 269,000 children experienced homelessness in 2018-2019, including 4,380 in Fresno County, according to a 2020 report by the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Fresno County has a graduation rate of about 82%, but for young people experiencing homelessness, it drops to about 60%. About 46% of students in the county graduate meeting the requirements to enter a UC or CSU, compared to only 16.4% of students experiencing homelessness.

The proposal is taking cues from the success of several other basic income programs, such as SEED in Stockton, which gave 125 residents $500 a month for two years. Findings showed recipients showed less anxiety and depression, helped them find full-time employment, and created new opportunities.

A different senate bill would allocate $20 million to provide unconditional monthly cash payments of $1,000 for three years to eligible farmworkers, with the goal of lifting them out of poverty.

Newsom already earmarked $35 million for guaranteed basic income pilot programs as part of the fiscal year 2021-22 budget, and will prioritize projects that serve former foster youth as well as pregnant individuals, according to the state.

Efforts are also underway to create a universal basic income program in Fresno, also modeled after the Stockton program.

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