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Palm Springs seeks to give trans residents monthly cash payments

At the start of the Palm Springs, Calif., city council meeting last Thursday, Jacob Rostovsky wasn’t sure the measure he was supporting would pass. The executive director and founder of Queer Works, a local nonprofit that provides support to the city’s transgender, non-binary and intersex residents, Rostovsky thought the meeting would pass quickly and prepared a pot of spaghetti to enjoy as soon as the remote session was over.

The point he attended was the last of the evening, but one that would be a huge first step for the city: a proposal to develop a guaranteed income pilot program for low-income transgender and non-binary residents.

The council considered the measure for an hour and a half. As the clock ticked to 9 p.m. — near his bedtime — Rostovsky grew increasingly uncertain about how the vote would go. “I was like, my pasta is getting cold,” he joked.

When the vote – which was unanimous – took place, Rostovsky said he “nearly fainted”.

The council voted to allocate $200,000 to Queer Works and DAP Health, another nonprofit, to develop a pilot program that will be presented to state legislators and private donors for funding. The proposal comes as states across the country have passed bills restricting the rights of gay and trans people: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (right) signed a bill that limits discussion last week on gender identity and sexual orientation for young students; in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey (right) signed two bills that would restrict gender-affirming care for trans youth and ban them from playing sports for girls.

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The Palm Springs The proposal could be the first Guaranteed Basic Income program specifically for low-income transgender and non-binary people to be implemented in the country.

Christy Holstege, a Palm Springs City Council member who helped craft the proposal, pointed to the Southern California city’s history in promoting LGBTQ rights.

“We are a beacon in the country and in the world, a place where LGBTQ people have fled for decades to seek refuge and safety and their own community,” she said. “And so I think it’s really important that Palm Springs be on the front lines of supporting the trans community…especially when they’re under attack across the country.”

Palm Springs has long been known for its LGTBQ inclusiveness. Holstege said it was too early to mandate gender-neutral restrooms and demand that benefits be offered equally to workers regardless of their gender identity. The city, whose mayor is a trans woman, has also funded queer and trans organizations within the community.

But, like many other American cities, it has also been the scene of worsening income inequality. Seen by many foreigners as a playground for the wealthy – spas, golf courses and the Coachella music festival are just a few of its attractions – there is an “undercurrent of poverty” in the region, Holstege said. This includes older people living on fixed incomes, minimum wage workers in the tourism and hospitality industry and homeless people, she added.

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As concerns grow over how to address housing instability in the city, the cost of a home has risen in recent years. The median cost of a typical Palm Springs home is now $657,171, an increase of 34.6% over the previous year, according to real estate website Zillow.

In general, transgender and non-binary people are overrepresented among those experiencing housing insecurity: A 2020 UCLA study found that 8% of transgender adults have been homeless in the previous year, compared to 3% of gay, bisexual and genderqueer adults and 1% of cisgender heterosexuals. adults.

Rostovsky said he’s seen a similar pattern in Palm Springs over the past five years. The Coachella Valley in particular has attracted more trans and non-binary people from surrounding areas, like Los Angeles, who are homeless — many are drawn to the city’s services and relative safety, he said.

For low-income people, regular, unrestricted cash payments are a “huge benefit,” Rostovsky added, empowering them to eliminate difficult financial choices and focus on other aspects of their lives. This is especially true for transgender and non-binary people, he said.

“Most people in my community are trying to decide if they should eat that night, have a safe place to sleep, be able to afford their hormone therapy,” said Rostovsky, who is trans. “They make decisions constantly, daily, that many cisgender people don’t even think about, and that includes homeless or unstable cisgender people.”

As more cities grapple with growing economic inequality, elected officials and policymakers are increasingly turning to Guaranteed Basic Income programs, which provide cash assistance to targeted populations, as a potential solution. . (A universal basic income, by contrast, would apply to everyone in a given municipality, state or country.) The money, which is unlimited and given to people on a regular basis, is intended to help cover the cost of basic life. and allow recipients to establish a greater sense of financial security.

While proponents of Guaranteed Basic Income (RBS) programs argue it’s the best way to end poverty, critics of these programs say they could discourage people from working, which would hamper employment. economy in turn.

But a 2021 study focused on a Universal Basic Income experiment in Stockton, California, found that full-time employment increased among residents who were part of the program, improving not only their financial health, but also their health. physical and emotional.

Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, despite her support for the proposal, has expressed reservations about a possible GBI program. While trans and non-binary people “deserve a lot of help,” she expressed concern that the program, which will only support a very small group of people, “will struggle to be seen as fair. by those who are not included”.

“In general, these are programs that are going to struggle to adapt to the level of issues that are in front of us,” she said. “There are a significant number of underprivileged people of color in Palm Springs that I would also like to help.”

Council member Holstege said she was drawn to experimenting with a GBI program during her time as mayor last year (Palm Springs rotates its town hall every year among its city council members), joining National Coalition of Mayors for Guaranteed Income. While doing outreach with various community organizations, DAP Health, an LGBTQ-led nonprofit that provides comprehensive healthcare services, reported that they were seeing higher rates of negative outcomes. for health among trans and non-binary residents, and that they could benefit from a cash assistance program, she says.

Palm Springs’ GBI proposal is primarily an anti-poverty policy, according to Holstege, but one that focuses on transgender and non-binary people because of the higher rates of homelessness and discrimination they face.

Queer Works and DAP Health will develop the program proposal — ensuring it’s “built by and for trans and non-binary people,” Holstege said. Rostovsky said they haven’t gotten exact numbers yet, but he noted that other GBI pilot programs have hovered between $600 and $900 in direct funding per month for about 20 people, for an 18-month period. .

Last year, California earmarked $35 million for state GBI programs for pregnant women and young adults who have recently left foster care. Queer Works and DAP Health hope to tap into that fund and attract private donors, Rostovsky said. If all goes well, he hopes applications for program participants can open by the fall.

As with other GBI programs, the pilot will also collect data to measure the impact of funding on people’s lives – beneficiaries will be compared to a control group who already receive the same social services as program participants, but without them. cash payments, Rostovsky said. “There’s a lot of power in having numbers, not just anecdotes,” he said.

As an activist who has been advocating for trans communities for 18 years, Rostovsky said it was an “incredible” and “validating” moment to see the proposal pass through city council.

For a very long time, he says, small trans-run organizations have been doing this work: “No one gave us much thought. No one gave us much credit, especially when it came to proposals to protect and strengthen their communities. »

He sees Palm Springs the same way — a small town that no one thinks much about now “doing something big” by simply acknowledging the needs of transgender and non-binary communities, and striving to do something about it. subject, he said.

As a small celebration after the council’s decision, Rostovsky helped himself to that spaghetti — and watched “90 Day Fiancé.” The next day he was working with a DAP consultant on the proposal, he said, “We’re not wasting time.

“I hope whatever happens, if this pilot gets picked up – whatever happens – there’s a trans person somewhere reading this and saying, okay, at least there’s a city trying “, said Rostovsky. “I can exist in a safe place for me.”

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