By: Tammy Murga , The San Diego Union Tribune on November 30, 2021 10AM PT.
A local coalition will be providing $500 monthly stipends to 150 families in some of San Diego County’s most disadvantaged communities.
Under the effort, known as the guaranteed income program, families who reside in areas with high rates of child poverty will receive the money for two years to use as they see fit to meet immediate needs.
“No strings attached is really straightforward: When folks get the money, they choose what they want to spend it on,” said Khea Pollard, director of San Diego for Every Child, the coalition spearheading the program.
San Diego for Every Child launched in January 2020 and aims to reduce child poverty by 50 percent over the next decade. The coalition, founded by Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego, and housed under the Jewish Family Service of San Diego, consists of youth advocates, community leaders and agencies such as the Center on Policy Initiatives, the YMCA Childcare Resource Services of San Diego County and the Parent Institute for Quality Education.
Of the county’s children age 12 and younger, 40 percent lived below 200 percent of the federal poverty level in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The data means that a family of four struggled to make ends meet with under $26,000 annually.
The guaranteed income program targets families who reside within neighborhoods who were not only impacted the most by the pandemic, but who also had previously struggled financially. Those areas include: 92114 (Encanto/San Diego), 92139 (Paradise Hills), 91950 (National City) and 92173 (San Ysidro).
“While realizing everyone at large has been impacted by COVID-19, these communities in these target areas were suffering before with lack of access to food, lack of access to child care, housing, those sorts of issues that are prevalent in these low-income communities of color,” Pollard said.
San Diego for Every Child has been tracking local child poverty levels via its public Childhood Poverty Map. In Encanto neighborhoods, for example, their data showed that anywhere between 72-86 children out of 100 are experiencing poverty. In National City, that figure was more than half of 100 children.
“We’ve learned the hard lesson this past year that financial security can evaporate in the face of an unpredictable world and an economy that is more unequal than ever,” Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said in a statement. “Guaranteed income can provide financial stability to our community here in National City just as it can across the country, ensuring no one falls through the cracks.”
Over the course of the program’s two years, the coalition hopes to continue collecting data by learning how families use the funding. They will gather information via surveys.
“There will be a treatment group of 150 families and there will be a control group who doesn’t get the $500 a month but will participate in surveys just so we can keep track of how they’re doing over this two-year period,” Pollard said.
Funds for the payments and research will be covered via several sources, including $1.4 million in state funding and $200,000 from the San Diego-based Alliance Healthcare Foundation.
This program is considered the first of its kind in San Diego County, though the model is not new. Similar programs, offering up to $2,000 monthly payments to families, have been announced in Los Angeles and Stockton.
Guaranteed income initiatives have been criticized because they would discourage people from getting a job or put existing safety net programs at risk. Pollard said the stipends are meant as supplements, and that research has shown other similar programs to be successful.
A key finding of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, which gave 125 families $500 per month for two years, showed that the program increased participants’ full-time employment by 12 percent and “alleviated financial scarcity, creating new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting, and risk-taking,” according to its first-year analysis.
“Many (of the programs) have shown that folks who have engaged in these pilots are actually finding work as a result of it, that money is acting as a stabilizing force so that people can actually spend time out of survival mode,” said Pollard.
Residents interested in learning more about the program can attend two upcoming events. The coalition will host forums from 6-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Jackie Robinson YMCA and Thursday at the Border View YMCA. The events will also include dinner, food pantry support and childcare.