An Income Floor For Unhoused Students

08. 29. 2023

CalSOAR is an example of the tremendous momentum for guaranteed income sweeping across the country.

Transitioning from high school to college or the workforce can be challenging. Imagine trying to do it while sleeping on the streets and not having enough money for meals. That’s the unfortunate reality for thousands of unhoused graduating seniors–which is why lawmakers in California have proposed a bold new initiative called “Success, Opportunity & Academic Resilience” (CalSOAR). Authored by State Senator David Cortese, co-sponsored by Economic Security Project Action, and advanced through the California Senate in May, CalSOAR would provide $1000 a month for five months to unhoused graduating high school students as they transition to college or the workforce. It aims to create stability for students as they leave behind the support system of high school, allowing them to focus their energy not on staying afloat, but on flourishing.

CalSOAR is an example of the tremendous momentum for guaranteed income sweeping across the country. From California to New York, states and communities are advancing innovative ways to use guaranteed income to make the economy work for more people. New York has proposed a bill called “Mothers and Infants Lasting Change” (MILC)—a guaranteed income for expecting mothers, to ensure their newborns start life on stable ground. It’s one of many policy initiatives proliferating around the country–guaranteed income initiatives and aligned strategies like the Child Tax Credits passed in fourteen states since this spring’s wave of expansions.

Innovative and far-reaching developments like these are indications we may be starting to shift from a neoliberal paradigm that harms vulnerable communities, towards a political economy that puts those communities first. Guaranteed income policies remove barriers to entry that other programs impose, as Springboard to Opportunities CEO and ESP board member Aisha Nyandoro described in her testimony before Congress. And they can support and empower immigrant communities without complicating their immigration process, as we discussed in a webinar ESP co-hosted with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law and the National Immigration Law Center. And guaranteed income can reach groups overlooked by other programs, such as with initiatives by Equity and Transformation in Chicago, and others, that provide GI for formerly incarcerated people.

In tandem with policy advances, we’re mainstreaming new narratives to educate and engage people nationally on the power of guaranteed income, through innovative media, programming, and events:  

  • At our Art Guaranteed event in Chicago, we brought together Power of Cash Narrative Change artist fellows, with policymakers, community members, and most importantly, guaranteed income participants, to tell the story of GI from the participants’ perspective. In two days of sold-out events, artists debuted works ranging from painting to music to photography to film, to tell human stories about how cash promotes dignity and self-determination.
  • We released our new podcast, GUARANTEED, hosted by sociologist and writer Dr. Eve L. Ewing, telling the stories of Chicago-area participants in guaranteed income programs who’ve used cash to activate their dreams–from starting a small business, to going back to school, to caring for the people they love. Each episode features a different GI participant discussing the real, tangible ways they’ve used guaranteed income to regain agency and joy.  
  • We joined a panel on narrative work at Netroots Nation, where Aisha Nyandro talked about the importance of telling stories that highlight the brilliance and genius of Black women participating in guaranteed income.
  • We took part in a discussion at the Basic Income Guarantee conference, where Guaranteed Income Community of Practice Program Manager Shafeka Hashash spoke on using stories to build power, bring messages to life, and convey values.
  • Hashash also participated in a panel about how guaranteed income supports the care work of women at End Women’s Poverty: An International & Community Gathering, hosted by the Global Women’s Strike.
  • We produced a robust series of training videos and guides, to help guaranteed income organizers tell their own stories persuasively and to a wide audience, through strategic engagement with the media.