Fresno CA Coalition Launches Guaranteed Basic Income Program.

Efforts to launch a guaranteed basic income pilot program are underway in Fresno.

On Saturday morning, a group of 30 members of the El Dorado community came out to share their ideas on what a guaranteed basic income program should look like in Fresno.

The listening session was hosted by members of the newly established Center for Community Voices based at Fresno State University, who were joined by Heather Brown, Executive Director of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission and El Dorado Park Community Development Corporation.

The local coalition said it was developing a plan to develop a guaranteed income pilot program that will select 200 urban and rural families to receive $ 500 per month for 12 to 18 months.

But, first of all, the group said they wanted the community’s feedback to be passed on to potential funders of the pilot.

“Historically, the way we approach problems is not to let the community lead,” said Amber Crowell, a sociology professor at Fresno State and co-director of the Center for Community Voices, the group that is developing the pilot of guaranteed basic income.

“Our goal is to engage residents in the conversation,” Crowell said.

Most of the participants pointed out that paying rent was their biggest concern.

Guaranteed Basic Income pilot arrives in Fresno

The Guaranteed Basic Income is a poverty alleviation program whereby selected residents receive unrestricted monthly cash payments to spend as they see fit.

“It won’t solve all the problems,” Crowell said. “But it will definitely help families become a bit more stable.”

Crowell, Andy Levine, and Matthew Jendian are directors of the Center for Community Voices and Fresno State Faculty. The group’s priority is to develop a Guaranteed Basic Income program in Fresno in partnership with other community and philanthropic organizations such as Fresno EOC and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.

The Fresno coalition builds on the declared success of the initial guaranteed income pilot project headed by former Mayor Michael Tubbs in Stockton. California has set aside $ 35 million to fund local guaranteed basic income pilot projects statewide. The pilot project found that most people spent the money on basic necessities such as rent, food and transportation.

Levine said the various welfare and social assistance programs have “far too many demands and even limits on how to access them.” He said that is why rent assistance dollars have been so difficult to distribute. “People don’t know how to get there and don’t know how to jump through all the hoops,” Levine said.

The group plans to seek state funding to support the pilot project, which will cost between $ 1.8 million and $ 2.4 million for direct checks. They also seek private funding from philanthropic sources.

“We’re not just waiting to see if we get that $ 2 million (from the state) to be able to do this particular project,” Brown said in a September editorial meeting with The Bee.

Brown also said that Fresno EOC is looking for other ways to fit a Guaranteed Basic Income into other programs. They include elements of a guaranteed basic income in their grant applications for ongoing programs, such as the Huron Jumpstart program.

Residents worried about rising rents in Fresno

During the Saturday morning listening session, residents asked questions about how such a program would work, who would be prioritized and if it would impact their current benefits. They also made suggestions to the group, such as considerations for the elderly and disabled.

Most of the residents who came out on Saturday said the biggest issue they were concerned about was the rent.

Fresno has seen one of the biggest increases in rent prices in the past year. As of August 2020, the more than 19% year-over-year increase in the median rent in the Fresno area – the point at which half of homes cost more and half as much – is the largest increase as a percentage among the 16 California metropolitan areas.

LaToya Rowe, resident of El Dorado neighborhood, came to the listening session because of “the idea that someone cares about our community and wants to gather information to potentially make a change.”

The widow and mother said she lost her customer service job during the pandemic. She said she worried about when and how the local declaration of emergency would be lifted early next year, especially since she has already started seeing her neighbors being kicked out.

Although she was able to access rent assistance, she said she had struggled to find a job despite applying for more than 60 to 70 positions. She said she feared she would eventually be deported too.

“I’m not one of those people who stay home waiting for a check,” Rowe said. “I have worked my whole life.

At the moment, she works part time as a volunteer receptionist at Wesley United Methodist Church.

Levine said almost everyone interviewed on Saturday said paying rent is their top priority. Residents also said a payment of $ 500 per month would cover “most” or “all” of their gap between monthly income and monthly expenses.

The Center for Community Voices plans to hold the next listening sessions in southwest Fresno, southeast Fresno and a rural part of the county. They hope to launch the pilot project in early 2022.

Want to share your thoughts?

Fresnans who would like to share their thoughts on a Guaranteed Basic Income program can contact the Center for Community Voices team directly to provide ideas and feedback:

Amber Crowell: [email protected]

Andy Levine: [email protected]

Matthew Jendian: [email protected]

Melissa Montalvo is a reporter for the Fresno Bee and a member of the Report for America Corps. This article is part of California division, a collaboration between editorial offices examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

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