City commits additional funds as backers find ways to help more residents with basic income program

A vote Thursday evening came one day after Coachella approved a program to provide 140 low-income immigrant families with a $400 monthly stipend for two years.

Four months after pledging money to help bring a state-funded basic income program to the city, the Palm Springs City Council voted to commit additional funds to the effort Thursday evening. The move came after hearing from local backers of the program that they’ve found a way to help even more in the community.

The 3-2 vote – with Mayor Lisa Middleton and Councilmember Dennis Woods voting no – will see the city commit to spending up to $500,000 more to aid the efforts to secure part of $35 million the state has committed to funding guaranteed income programs. In March, at the urging of Councilmember Christy Holstege, the city approved an initial $200,000 to help with the application process. 

As designed, the program would provide cash payments to low-income city residents to help them on the path to economic security. Two local organizations are spearheading the effort in Palm Springs — Queer Works and DAP Health — seeking to secure part of the $35 million the state is committed to spending for guaranteed income pilot programs over the next five years.

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Participants would be extremely low-income residents who make less than $16,600 per year for a single-person household. Despite some confusion earlier this year, when national news outlets claimed the program would only be made available to transgender and non-binary people, the program is open to people from all demographic backgrounds.

Jacob Rostovsky, executive director and founder of Queer Works, addressed the confusion Thursday evening, saying, “While our program is not exclusive to [the transgender and non-binary] community, as a trans individual, I do feel that it’s very important to highlight some of the most vulnerable residents that will be a part of this pilot.”

“Trans and non-binary community members experience extra barriers when except when accessing care,” he added, “and they are actually on the lowest on the socio-economic scale with the highest risk of being homeless.”

“The number one reason — and all the data supports this — that people become homeless is because they can’t afford their rent. This is going to help people get off the streets.”

Councilmember Geoff Kors

Middleton, who is transgender, has opposed the city backing the program based solely on the fact she is skeptical that municipal governments should play a role in providing basic income.

“I know a little something about being transgender and the challenges that are faced by our community,” Middleton said before the vote. “I also have rather personal experience with poverty as well. But I’ve come to a different conclusion as to the capacity of these programs to scale up and to achieve the very laudable goals that you have set before you.”

Added Woods: “I don’t think the city needs to continue down this path of social services.” He also mentioned that the city spent $500,000 to address pedestrian traffic deaths when that same amount of money is now going to “a small group of people.”

According to Rostovsky and David Brinkman, CEO of DAP Health, that small group should now be much larger. They explained Thursday evening that while initial plans called for 20 participants in the program to receive up to $900 a month, they now think 180 participants can receive $800 a month for 18 months. 

In addition, the city’s commitment will also be less than previously planned. Rostovsky and Brinkman initially thought they would ask for $1 million in additional money from the city. On Thursday, they said support pledged from DAP Health means fewer tax dollars from the city are needed.

Rostovsky and some members of the Council acknowledged the program had been met with backlash, thanks in part to misinformation spread by right-wing media. It also led to threats against Rostovsky.

“In this political environment, just having a conversation about the program resulted in some really awful stories and death threats that no one should have to go through,” said Councilmember Geoff Kors.

Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner pointed out that the idea of government providing basic income with no strings attached to residents may seem “out there,” but it has proven to work.

“This seems really radical for a lot of people because they think we should be telling others how they can spend their money,” Garner said. “But the reality is, we are the ones who are most capable of deciding what’s best for us.”

In Stockton, one of the first cities in the country to test out Universal Basic Income (UBI), the program was shown to help increase full-time employment. That flew in the face of a common misconception that recipients will stop working. Before the UBI program in Stockton started, 28% of recipients had full-time employment. One year later, 40% of recipients had full-time work. 

In addition to employment, UBI can also help alleviate homelessness. 

“The number one reason — and all the data supports this — that people become homeless is because they can’t afford their rent,” said Kors. “This is going to help people get off the streets.”

There are facts to back that up. Data from a UBI program in Vancouver, British Columbia, showed that 35% of participants spent extra income to secure permanent housing

Perhaps most importantly, councilmembers emphasized Thursday, UBI programs cut through the red tape and means-testing of most government programs. 

“It’s unconditional. With no strings attached and no work requirements,” said Holstege.

The vote comes one day after a city on the other side of the valley also approved a universal basic income program. On Wednesday, Coachella approved a program to provide 140 low-income immigrant families with a $400 monthly stipend for two years.

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