California’s state Senate is considering legislation to provide universal basic income to former foster youth transitioning out of the system.

Senate Bill 739, introduced by Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, would provide the state’s 2,500 former foster youth ages 21-24 with $1,000 a month for three years, with no strings attached. Cortese and other legislators held a briefing last week to advocate for the bill.

“That may not seem like a lot of money, but it will help those individuals that are transitioning out, are trying to find their way or making sure that they don’t end up on the street,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson.

Gipson emphasized that direct cash assistance for foster youth would curb homelessness rates, which are disproportionately high with 1 out of 4 former foster youth exiting the system falling into homelessness.

Kenneth Chancey, policy manager at the National Foster Youth Institute, said when he exited the foster care system he went straight into homelessness — living on skid row for two years.

“As we know, youth without familial support far too often end up victimized, or arrested and incarcerated for committing crimes, often just to support themselves.”

Chesa Boudin, San Francisco District Attorney

He emphasized that his story was not unique, and for some, like his little sister, it results in death.

“It does not have to be this way,” Chancey said. “The solution is simple — provide these young adults with a stable financial foundation that is not conditioned on their medical, academic or career accomplishments.”

He and other supporters of the legislation pointed to at least 14 UBI programs throughout the state as examples of its effectiveness.

A basic income pilot in the city of Stockton called the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration helped 125 residents attain stable employment, improve their mental and physical health as well as meet their basic needs, Cortese said.

In fact, participants in Stockton obtained full-time employment at more than twice the rate of non-participants.

Santa Clara County, which became the first government entity to provide UBI for transition-aged foster youth in June 2020, has also seen success. Within a few months, most foster youth reported that the money helped stabilize their life, according to a February 2021 report by the county.

Cortese brought forth that legislation to the county during his tenure as a Santa Clara County supervisor.

More money, less incarceration

Direct cash assistance would also help lower incarceration rates and support foster youth who had loved ones incarcerated, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said.

“As we know, youth without familial support far too often end up victimized, or arrested and incarcerated for committing crimes, often just to support themselves,” said Boudin, who is a co-sponsor of the bill. “SB 739 would close that gap.”

He said in California, about 10 percent of foster youth have parents currently incarcerated and 40 percent of foster youth have been exposed to parental incarceration at one point in their lives.

“I grew up visiting both of my parents behind bars,” Boudin said. “I know the kind of trauma that the sudden loss of a parent can have on the child and the kind of lifelong resources and supports that are needed to make that child whole again.”

For the district attorney, SB 739 is one of those resources and “a part of mitigating the harm … and preventing and breaking a cycle of intergenerational incarceration and victimization.”

It is also a “crucial extension” of the Supervised Independent Living Placement payment, or SILP payment, of $1,000 per month given to former foster youth aged 18-21.

“With foster youth, the government has decided that we are more fit to act as parents, so we cannot take that responsibility away just because a young person has reached a certain age, or completed the program,” said Shimica Gaskins, executive director at the Children’s Defense Fund-California. “We know that continued support leads to better outcomes.”

The legislation would cost the state $30 million per year, totaling $90 million over the program’s three years. So far, $60 million to fund the first two years has been tentatively approved as it is included in the Legislature’s version of the 2021-22 budget.

The remaining $30 million is contingent on an appropriation in the next state budget cycle.

If approved by the Senate, the bill will go next to the Assembly.