California could send $500 a month unconditionally to students from low-income families under the legislature’s latest approach to a guaranteed basic income plan.
State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) is considering legislation that would create a pilot program on select California State University campuses, providing monthly stipends for one year to students whose family income is in the the lowest 20% income earners in the state. Up to 14,000 students could be eligible.
Nearly 11% of the more than 480,000 students in the CSU system said they were homeless in 2018, according to a report from the Chancellor’s office. Over 40% of CSU students reported food insecurity. For first-generation black college students, it was worse, with almost 70% reporting being food insecure and 18% homeless.
“Students do couch surfing and sleep in their cars. It could be enough money to rent a room, and if you don’t need a room, use it for what you need,” Cortese said in an interview. “It’s like a booster shot. It could help get them off that treadmill and prevent them from dropping out, being on the streets, and becoming long-term homeless.
A three-campus plan would cost the state about $57 million, and a larger five-campus plan would cost about $84 million, according to Cortese’s preliminary estimates, which are based on student income data.
Campuses under consideration for the pilot program include CSU Los Angeles; San Francisco State; CSU East Bay; San José State and Fresno State.
Cortese said he will only move forward with the proposal if protections are in place so that students who receive the funding do not receive less from other financial aid programs due to increased income from stipends. .
The idea, he said, is to make guaranteed income grants permanent for the poorest students, building on the positive results of the pilot schemes.
Other universal basic income programs in the state have shown promise.
A Stockton program created in 2019 by former mayor Michael Tubbs, now an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, gave $500 a month unconditionally to income-eligible residents for two years. Preliminary results showed the program reduced “income volatility,” enabled recipients to find full-time employment and improved their health, according to a bill analysis by Cortese.
Last year, Los Angeles became the largest city in the country launch a guaranteed basic income program of $1,000 per month.
And as part of last year’s state budget, Newsom invested $35 million in a guaranteed income pilot program for interested cities and counties, focused on helping young adoptive pregnant or parenting, former youth adoptees and other low-income Californians. Access to this scheme is not yet available, with applications due to open next month, according to Newsom’s finance ministry.
Cortese, who also helped develop the statewide program, said he suspected it wouldn’t be enough to meet demand. Targeting the new proposal at students, a demographic for which the state is able to track and obtain financial information, is a smart move to address the problem, he said.
“We have a captive audience, and we know where they are: in our public institutions,” Cortese said. “I would just as much like to administer a program to people on the streets as well, but there is something to be said for doing anti-displacement work among a population that is so accessible.
The plan was inspired by the silicon valley pain index, a report created in 2020 by the San Jose University Institute for Human Rights that focuses on wealth and racial inequality.
Scott Myers-Lipton, the report’s lead author and a San Jose State professor, is working with Cortese on the plan and said universal basic income programs work because they cut the “bureaucratic rules” that can make hard for students to get the help they need.
Even critics of universal basic income, who are skeptical of the effects on the economy and unemployment, will have a hard time arguing with this college-based proposal, Myers-Lipton said.
“Having the students’ income information, there could be no doubt about their fairness. We have students sleeping in the library and living in tents,” he said. “I would ask, ‘What is your solution for homelessness in college?’ Because what is happening right now is not enough. We talk about the people who will be our future leaders. It is obvious.