If you live in a poor or working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles County and the pandemic has hurt your wallet, you may be eligible to receive $1,000 a month for three years with no strings attached. But if you’re interested, you should be ready to act soon – you’ll only have a limited time to apply.
The grants are made available through Breathe, the county’s experiment with “guaranteed income” – a cash-based approach to tackling poverty. Run in partnership with the nonprofit Strength Based Community Change of Wilmington and the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania, the program is funded by federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Support for governments providing a financial floor for their residents has existed at least since the early 1500s, when Thomas More described a version of it in “Utopia”. Over the past few decades, communities around the world have tried different flavors of guaranteed income, with more experiments launching seemingly every month. While most have been short-lived, ongoing efforts include the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, which gives each resident a small share of the money earned through oil and gas leases and share-sharing plans. profits of some of the tribes that operate casinos.
The federal government launched the nation’s largest guaranteed income program last year when it expanded the federal child tax credit and paid it to eligible parents on a monthly basis. The program has helped lift millions of children out of poverty, but Congress allowed it to expire at the end of December. Researchers at Columbia University found that the following month the number of poor children increased by 3.7 million.
What sets these programs apart from social assistance, food stamps, and other safety net programs is that recipients can use the money however they see fit. That’s important because people know best what they need, and every household’s needs are different, said Stacia West, founding director of the Guaranteed Income Research Center.
Here are more details about the county program and the application process.
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Who is eligible?
Carrie Miller, director of the county’s Poverty Reduction Initiative, said there were five requirements to be eligible for Breathe:
- Age: You are at least 18 years old.
- Neighborhood: You live in a Los Angeles County neighborhood with a median household income no higher than the county. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know the stats! Just check out the map on the Breathe website.
- Income: If you live alone, your income is no higher than the median for the region. If you are in a household of two or more, your income is no more than 20% above the county median. Again, the Breathe website will help you figure this one out, but to give you an idea, the threshold is $56,000 for singles and $96,000 for a family of four.
- Pandemic effects: You must have suffered financial harm, which Miller defined as “any financial impact someone may have suffered” as a result of COVID-19. Examples include lost employment, reduced income, higher childcare costs due to school closures, and increased healthcare costs.
- Participation: You do not participate in any other public guaranteed income programs, such as those in West Hollywood or the City of Los Angeles.
The program is open to non-citizens as long as they reside in the county. “We won’t check for legal status, as it’s not a requirement of the program,” Miller said.
Applicants will have to provide a boatload of additional information about themselves for the sake of ongoing research (more on that in a moment), but Miller stressed that none of these data points will matter. when the participants are chosen. Instead, each candidate who ticks the five boxes listed above will be placed into a pool, and then the 1,000 participants will be chosen at random.
How to register
The application form will be available online on the county’s website beginning Thursday, and Miller said it can be completed on a cellphone if you don’t have access to a computer. You can also get help completing the application at more than 50 centers across the county; If you can’t access the list online, you can call the hotline that Strength Based Community Change has set up for the program at (213) 342-1003. The hotline will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, said Ely Fournier, director of economic vitality at the SBCC.
The deadline to apply is April 13. Applying early will not improve your chances of being selected, the county said when announcing the program.
Reflecting the diversity of LA County, the app will be available in more than 20 languages, Fournier said. The county is also working with Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (better known by the acronym CIELO) to provide translation in more than 30 indigenous languages on a welcome site, Miller said.
On the application, you’ll need to answer a few questions about your income, but you won’t have to back that up with paperwork at this point, Miller said. Instead, the county will verify your eligibility only if you are selected to participate in the program.
Be warned, though — the application is long and will take about an hour to complete, West said. Why? Researchers need this information to get a baseline reading of applicants before they enter the program, West said. This way they can measure how much the program is helping them and how their life is changing.
Miller cautioned that “there are sensitive questions and questions that can make people a little uncomfortable to answer.” For example, candidates will be asked personal questions about their physical and mental health. But your answers will not affect your selection for the program; they are just to help researchers gauge how people are doing before the program begins. And unlike the city of Los Angeles, the county won’t ask applicants about their experience with domestic violence.
West said the poll responses would be stored without the candidates’ names attached to protect their anonymity. Only researchers would have access to identities, she said.
How will this work?
Miller said it would take six to eight weeks to select participants, and so monthly grants will likely begin in the summer. The county will distribute the money by giving participants a prepaid debit card that will be topped up monthly, meaning people without bank accounts can still participate. It also creates a detailed record for researchers on how participants spend grants.
There are a few issues with this form of payment though – it can be expensive to use the card to withdraw cash at some ATMs, and attendees with checking accounts might prefer the flexibility offered by direct deposit.
Unlike some other programs, the county will not proactively try to match participants with services, such as career counseling, education or job training. Instead, Miller said, they will be offered the same support that is available to all county residents.
What are researchers studying?
It’s well established that having an unpredictable income for a long period of time can be bad for your physical and mental health. For example, West said, this kind of volatility can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and lung problems.
The county is examining whether it can improve health and well-being by providing households with reliable supplemental income for three years, West said. It also measures whether the program leads to increased savings, reduced debt and better ability to manage emergency expenses, she added, as well as its effect on parenthood and household dynamics. .
As part of this research, participants will be asked to complete an optional survey every six months that will check their “physical health, mental health, income volatility, housing stability, expenses, consumption, employment, education, family dynamics and parenting, stress and coping, hope and importance, household food security and COVID-19 variables,” the county research plan reads.
In addition to the 1,000 county-selected participants, West said, his center will invite applicants who were not selected to join a control group of 1,200 households. To encourage these people to complete the surveys, the program will raise awareness and provide them with a $30 gift card, the same compensation participants receive. West said focus groups from other programs have generally wanted to participate, explaining, “As the world of guaranteed income expands, people want to contribute in some way. They’re like, ‘Wow, I can really have a say. For example, my voice really matters in how we build the programs. “
Echoing other scholars, West said there was no need to continue researching whether it was wise to give money unconditionally to residents in need. “Years of social science data” shows that “people with the lowest incomes make the best decisions with their money,” she said, adding, “There is no way to be rich and irresponsible with $1,000 a month”.