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LA County is sending $1,000 per month to some residents for the next 3 years. Applications are open now

April 1, 2022, 3:59 PM UTC

Money for nothing, that’s the era the stimulus checks of 2020 and 2021 may have ushered in.

The idea of a government sending money to people just for existing is older, and has various names: “universal basic income” or “guaranteed minimum income” are famous ones.

Now the largest county in the U.S. is giving it a shot.

Los Angeles County will send $1,000 a month to 1,000 residents for three years through “Breathe,” a new guaranteed income program pilot. he LA county board of supervisors approved the program last May, and the deadline for enrollment is Wednesday, April 13. It opened yesterday.

The county’s Poverty Alleviation Initiative will oversee the pilot and has partnered with the community nonprofit Strength Based Community Change (SBCC) to administer it, while the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGPR) will randomly select qualified applicants. 

The biggest program of its kind

Researchers affiliated with CBIR seek to investigate how guaranteed income affects income volatility, which impacts lower income communities at higher rates, as well as how guaranteed income affects financial stability, overall health and wellbeing, and the ability to plan for the future.

“There are upward of 100 pilots that we know about across the country that study various time periods, cadence of payments, or populations. We see most pilots run for two years. This one is different than most, given the three-year duration,” says Bo-Kyung Elizabeth Kim, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work and one of the lead investigators at CGIR.

SBCC has organized a network of 50 agencies across the country to disseminate information about the program, provide informational sessions, and serve as enrollment centers, says Ely Fournier, director of economic vitality at SBCC.

“Many LA county residents lack trust in county departments and programs,” he says. The 50 affiliated agencies are positioned to bridge that distrust.

The “Breathe” application has two parts, with the first screening applicants for eligibility. Applicants must be 18 years or older, live in an LA County neighborhood that falls at or below the county’s area median income (AMI), and have a household income that falls at or below the county’s AMI. 

For a single person, says Fournier, that income has a cutoff at $56,000. For a family of four, the cutoff is $96,000.

Applicants must also have been negatively financially affected by the pandemic, which Fournier admits is the case for most people. They also cannot be enrolled in other guaranteed income programs in the area. The city of Los Angeles launched a separate program, Big:Leap, earlier this year. Compton has its own guaranteed income program called The Compton Pledge.

Once deemed eligible, applicants can then fill out a 26-page survey which asks questions related to mental health and physical and emotional wellbeing. “It’s pretty intense,” says Fournier. He believes the network of community agencies will encourage applicants to not give up on applying. 

“From what we’ve seen in prior experiments, we hypothesize that families will be better prepared financially to meet basic needs and weather shocks [with a guaranteed income],” says Kim. “That stability has ripple effects into health and well-being that can reduce stress and anxiety. From there, families may be more able to spend quality time with their kids, families, and communities, and imagine different futures for themselves.”

“This money is not supposed to replace someone’s job salary,” says Fournier. “It’s not supposed to replace someone’s work, but it’s supposed to be an addition. That’s why they called it breathe. It’s supposed to give breathing room.”

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