Spurred on by the efforts of Supervisor Dave Cortese, this week the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a pilot project to provide monthly basic income to a limited number of former foster youth. With financial support from the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, the project will provide monthly stipends of $1,000 to 72 young people in its first year. While basic income initiatives have been gaining popularity in recent years, this appears to be the first time the concept has been piloted specifically to address the challenges faced by transition-age former foster youth.

As COVID-19 responses continue to have severe impacts on employment, education, and nearly every aspect of life — especially for those who already struggle to maintain stability in their lives — this pilot could not come at a better time.

“I think universal basic income will be a great addition to supporting youth’s transition into adulthood and self-sufficiency,” says Rachel Carlos, First Place Director of Programs for Santa Clara County. “I also think that a youth’s participation and engagement with organizations like First Place will be imperative to the pilot’s success. So it is reassuring to know that pilot participants will be strongly encouraged to continue their participation in programs like ours and to stay connected to natural supports.”

Financial literacy has always been a part of our work in preparing young people in foster care for independence. From the basics setting up a monthly budget and getting in the habit of paying bills on time to more complex issues like dealing with identity theft and repairing poor credit, we help them build a solid foundation of responsibility. So as the pilot moves forward, we’ll continue to support our participants in learning to make wise choices in saving and spending, balance needs and wants, and think about the future. With this kind of support and guidance, young people will be able to get the maximum positive impact from their participation in the pilot.  While the immediate practical benefits of basic income are obvious — from reduced student debt to reliable transportation and stable housing — the potential emotional benefits can’t be over looked. A greater degree of financial security allows young people more time and space to think about what they want for the future and how to achieve it, rather than feeling like they have to have everything figured out right now.

What I remember most about that period of time in my life was the constant effort necessary to simply survive,” says Darryl McDavid, former First Place participant and a member of our Board of Directors. “Feeling that, instead of being chances to learn valuable life lessons, the simple mistakes I made were wrecking balls that would destroy the foundation I was working to build. I support the basic income pilot for former foster youth because I believe a financial safety net would allow them to focus more on how they will realistically move beyond a mindset of simply surviving what life throws at them and feel more empowered to build the life they always dreamed of.”

The transition from foster care to independence is never easy, and in more expensive regions of the country like the Bay Area it can be especially daunting. We have always believed it can be made better through the right support at crucial times. Hopefully, the Santa Clara County’s pilot will show that basic income can be another useful support for young people to leverage as they leave foster care and establish homes, advance their educations, and launch self-sustaining careers for lasting success.

We want to offer our thanks to Supervisor Cortese and the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity for prioritizing this work and making an important investment in helping foster youth reach their full potential.