Santa Clara County Pilot Program Providing UBI to Foster Youth May Be Expanded to All of California

Photo by Andrii Ganzevych

Sen. Dave Cortese proposes statewide basic income pilot; a pilot that includes foster care youth as they leave the child welfare system.

By Laurence Du Sault

Borrowing from a Santa Clara County program he proposed, state Sen. Dave Cortese has introduced legislation to provide $1,000 monthly cash payments for California’s foster care youth as they leave the child welfare system.

“I can’t think of a more urgent time to roll out this kind of assistance,” Cortese said during an online press conference Monday. “Especially as they enter the adult world during an economic decline caused by COVID-19.”

The bill — SB 739 — would create a pilot basic income program offering the roughly 2,500 California youth transitioning out of the foster care system this year at age 21 unconditional direct monthly payments for three years. Cortese, D-San Jose, estimates that would cost the state approximately $30 million. It’s not clear whether the money would come from the state’s general fund. Cortese said his team is still determining “where the best bucket is” in terms of state funding.

“There’s a hole in our social safety net relative to transitioning foster youth, and I believe it’s one of many,” said Cortese, who added that basic income programs like this one could prove a “lifeline” for California’s most vulnerable populations.

The pandemic recession has boosted interest in basic income programs throughout the state, with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf pledging to start that city’s own guaranteed income pilot program based on former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs’ experiment.

Only about half of California’s young people in foster care graduate high school, and 40 percent experience homelessness within a year and a half of leaving the system, according to the California Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cortese said a significant number are children and youth of color.

“Children in our foster care system are the responsibility of the state and we should take care of their basic needs,” said Sharon M. Lawrence, CEO of CASA in an emailed statement, adding that she is looking forward to seeing more details of Cortese’s proposal. The bill is awaiting referral to a committee and a first hearing date.

The proposal mirrors a first-in-the-nation pilot program spearheaded last year by Cortese when he was a Santa Clara County supervisor.

That program provided the county’s 72 young adults transitioning out of the child welfare system in 2020 with similar thousand-dollar payments. It is set to expire in May.

Results from quarterly evaluations of the Santa Clara experiment have yet to be reported. It’s unclear whether the board of supervisors will choose to extend it, but Cortese said he was “extremely confident”and that county administrators are working on proposals to expand the program.


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