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Healdsburg to offer low-income families $500 per month in pilot program

Young, low-income mothers with children under 5 will be the focus of a new guaranteed basic income pilot program expected to launch later this year in Healdsburg.

The program will offer 50 local families $500 a month for two years to help make up the gap that often occurs during early childhood when mothers need help to pay for child care or to make up the income deficit if they decide to stay home.

“For a lot of people this is their first time hearing about it,” said Jesus Guzman, director of community services for Corazón Healdsburg, a nonprofit organization that serves low-income Latinos and is working with the city to develop the program. “We wanted to give folks a heads-up and an opportunity to share input as this all unfolds.”

A Zoom Community Conversation was held Thursday night, sponsored by Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County, in which speakers from various organizations explained how such programs work and answered questions.

This would be the first such pilot launched in Sonoma County, though several other Bay Area cities have completed or are in the early stages of starting a similar guaranteed or universal basic income program.

“We know there are serious health repercussions to chronic stress as well as the dietary and other deprivations that can come with living at the margins,” said Kim Bender, executive director of Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County, a strong supporter of the plan. “And children born into poverty disproportionately face many developmental challenges.

“We see GBI (guaranteed basic income) as a critical upstream approach to achieving greater health outcomes for our extremely-low-income families and greater health equity overall.”

Guzman said the county also has expressed interest in supporting a program, “so there may be opportunities to expand.”

The idea of a guaranteed basic income to address chronic poverty and wealth inequality was most recently discussed when Democrat Andrew Yang ran for president in 2020, when he talked about giving every household $1,000 a month. Similar programs have been offered for years around the world, including in Alaska. Federal and state relief checks issued during the pandemic also provided momentum to the idea.

The concept is based on trusting people to know best how to spend their money and move up the economic ladder, and it has been proved in pilot programs such as in Stockton.

In 2019, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED, gave 125 people living in neighborhoods at or below the town’s median household income a $500 monthly stipend. A study after the first year determined full-time employment rose and families’ financial, physical and emotional health improved.

For several months, Guzman led focus groups with families talking about the plan to supplement the safety net already provided by government, “and they identified the gap in those early childhood years,” Guzman said. “If we can target pregnant individuals, we can fill it.”

“It’s so expensive to live here and this would be additional funds,” he added.

In 2019, the median income in Healdsburg was about $96,000, $88,000 in Sonoma County and $80,400 statewide, according to websites DataUSA and Point2Homes.

Corazón Healdsburg is considering a random selection in the form of a lottery to choose which families get the stipends, as some other agencies have done, Guzman said.

The pilot is in the early stages of development, Guzman said. The Healdsburg City Council set aside $250,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act for the program last September.

“We still have to go the City Council and get the release of those funds, probably in March or April,” he said. “People should be able to apply in late summer or early fall.”

Devi, a Healdsburg resident with three children ages 3-14 who was on the Zoom panel and in a Corazón focus group, told the Healthcare Foundation she recalled those early years.

“ … That was really hard. I had to stop working,” she said in a story on the foundation’s website. “Going back to work means having your child go to day care, which is really expensive.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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