L.A. County Launches “Groundbreaking Guaranteed Income Program”

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On March 31, L.A. County is set to undertake what they have characterized as one of the most significant programs of its kind in the nation with the rollout of “Breathe”, their groundbreaking Guaranteed Income Program.

1,000 randomly selected qualifying residents will receive $1,000 a month for three years as part of the program overseen by the County’s Poverty Alleviation Initiative, launched last year to address poverty and income instability among LA County residents, many of whom are working but still unable to make ends meet.

Guaranteed income programs have proven to disrupt longstanding cycles of poverty and economic inequity by enabling participants to self-determine the budgetary strategies that will most benefit themselves and their families.

Stark and widespread economic inequities have been laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic—highlighting the longstanding struggles of families in the nation’s most populous county, where an estimated 25% of children live in poverty. Breathe: LA County’s Guaranteed Income Program is aimed at addressing these inequities for 1,000 residents in targeted low-income communities—giving them financial space to breathe. Similar programs have found that recipients use the money to pay bills, go to school and provide well-being for their families.

“The financial uncertainty and varying depths of poverty that millions of our constituents experience day-to-day cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Now is our opportunity to invest in support that directly reaches our residents. I am proud that the Board’s approval of my motion with Supervisor Kuehl has served as the impetus for Breathe: LA County’s Guaranteed Income Program and that this is one of the powerful tools the County is using to help disrupt the cycle of poverty,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Holly J. Mitchell. “It’s time that we trust that our residents know how best to meet their needs when given the resources to do so. Across the country, guaranteed income has already proven to reduce poverty, improve the long-term well-being of families, and give residents living on the edge of a fiscal cliff the support to breathe a bit easier.”

A total of 1,000 participants who apply during the open enrollment period beginning March 31 will be randomly selected by a research team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research, which is partnering with the County to design and implement the program. Direct monthly payments will be distributed via a debit card to selected residents and will come without strings or conditions, allowing participants to spend the money as they see fit to meet their needs.

“The course of this pandemic has revealed the large number of County residents who are living on the brink of financial crisis, with insufficient savings to weather a job loss, a medical emergency, or a major car repair.  This guaranteed income program will help give residents the breathing room they need to better weather those crises. There is ample evidence from guaranteed income projects around the country that financial support, coupled with the freedom to make their own decisions about how best to spend their money, offers families the flexibility they need to establish stability and invest in a more prosperous future for themselves,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The program builds on a series of guaranteed basic income programs with well-documented results, including an inaugural pilot, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) in California, and Universal Basic Income programs nationwide.

“In launching its pilot, Los Angeles County is showing what’s possible at the ground level—both benefiting the community immediately and helping us achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a program nationally that eliminates poverty and builds economic resilience across the country,” said former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, who led the SEED Program and is now a founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

LA County’s three-year financial commitment is believed to be the longest for a program of its size and scope and will allow the University of Pennsylvania researchers to study the longer-term impacts of this additional income on recipients’ economic well-being. Additionally, the program will provide $36 million in direct payments to participants over the three-year duration.

“There is so much we still do not know about the power of unconditional cash over a longer period of time. With a three-year pilot, it opens up the possibility for families to set larger goals than we have seen in other experiments and it also gives policymakers a chance to learn how unconditional cash functions alongside other programs over time,” said Dr. Amy Beth Castro, University of Pennsylvania, Center for Guaranteed Income Research. “Given that we saw reductions in anxiety and depression after just 12 months in Stockton, we are eager to see how families leverage a much longer period of support,”

The program was initiated on May 18, 2021, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisors Mitchell and Kuehl to declare that poverty and economic opportunity is a matter of public health and to direct the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office to establish a countywide Guaranteed Income program.

Breathe: LA County’s Guaranteed Income Program is part of a sweeping series of investments that our Board is making to create a ‘Better than Before’ recovery that aims to propel our underinvested communities into a more prosperous and equitable future,” said County CEO Fesia Davenport. “When combined with other economic recovery programs, including rent relief and small business assistance, and bold initiatives to address systemic racism and inequities in the justice system, we are laying the foundation for significant changes in how we deliver services.”

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and with a household income that falls at or below LA County’s average median income (AMI) of $56,000 for a single person household or 120% of AMI at or below $96,000 for a family of four, for example. They must also have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and live within one of many low-income communities targeted by the program.

Residents interested in applying can visit: https://ceo.lacounty.gov/pai/breathe. The enrollment period opens March 31 and the deadline for applications is April 13. Selection will not depend on the timing of entries.


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