Oakland Implements First of Its Kind Race-Based Guaranteed Income Plan

The Bay Bridge linking Oakland to the east with San Francisco, 2008. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

The mayor of Oakland, Calif., announced on Tuesday that a privately funded program will offer low-income families of color $500 per month, with no restrictions on how to spend the funds.

To be eligible for the Oakland Resilient Families program, which has already raised $6.75 million from private donors, must be non-white, have at least one child under 18, and income at or below 50 percent of the area median income — roughly $59,000 per year for a family of three.

Half of the spaces are set aside for those who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which amounts to roughly $30,000 per year for a family of three.

Participants will be randomly selected from a pool of applicants who meet eligibility criteria. It will aim to help up to 600 families, one of the largest efforts nationwide and the first to restrict participation to black, indigenous and people of color communities.

In Oakland, white households make about three times as much annually as black households, on average, according to the Oakland Equity Index.

Oakland joins a number of cities nationwide that have launched small, temporary programs in an effort to persuade Congress to implement a national guaranteed income program, according to the Associated Press.

The effort began in 2019 in Stockton, Calif. after the city’s former Mayor Michael Tubbs founded Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Similar programs are expected to launch in six other cities by this summer, Tubbs said.

“We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence, and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said.

Stockton’s program ended last month. An independent review showed that after one year of receiving a guaranteed income, 40 percent of recipients had full-time jobs, up from 28 percent before the program began.

The program in Oakland serves as the long-awaited implementation of a priority of the Black Panther Party, the political movement that started in Oakland in the 1960s which advocated for a guaranteed income.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Nixon administration experimented with guaranteed income via four programs across the country. The studies found that the money did not discourage people from working. While President Nixon recommended expanding the program, the effort never made it through Congress.

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