Oakland, California Begins Guaranteed Income Program: ‘Invest in Justice,’ ‘Change the System’

Demonstrators burn garbage in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, May 29, 2020, while protesting the Monday death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
AP Photo/Noah Berger

The Northern California city of Oakland — ranked the second most dangerous city in the state — is beginning its guaranteed income program by randomly selecting families who will receive $500 “with no strings attached” for 18 months.

The city’s website, named Oakland Resilient Familes, describes the program this way:

A guaranteed income is predicated on the understanding that people are the experts in their own lives, and that the solutions to poverty are being created by the communities experiencing it. This unconditional, no-strings-attached income is meant to enhance, rather than replace, the existing social safety net by providing families with the flexibility to decide how best to meet their needs.

The website states that the program has three components:

The What: Oakland Resilient Families will provide 600 randomly selected Oakland families (with an intentional focus on groups with the greatest wealth disparities per the Oakland Equity Index) with low incomes and at least 1 child under 18 a guaranteed income of $500 per month for at least 18 months.

The Why: BIPOC (black, indigenous and people color) families in Oakland and the nation experience generational wealth inequities rooted in ongoing systemic racism. The movement for a guaranteed income as a tool for racial and gender equity dates back to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panther Party. 

The How: Families can apply online and will be randomly chosen for the $500/month. Oakland Resilient Families is not a first-come-first-served program and is open to undocumented residents and unsheltered families. Any eligible family will be able to apply.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the development:

In Oakland, residents who are at or below 50% of area median income — about $59,000 per year for a family of three — are eligible. Half of the spots are reserved for very-low-income families earning below 138% of the federal poverty level — about $30,000 per year for a family of three.

Those chosen will be randomly selected from a pool of eligible applicants.

The program is funded with private donations from Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic organization focused on poverty, which has raised more than $6.7 million. About 80% of those funds are going into the hands of residents. UpTogether, a national nonprofit based in Oakland focused on fighting poverty, will run the program.

“Our vision is an Oakland that has closed the racial wealth gap and where all families thrive,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in March.

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