HOMELESS HIGH SCHOOL students in Santa Clara County may soon receive an income lifeline.

State Sen. Dave Cortese is working to bring guaranteed income to local homeless high school seniors through a pilot program, after a similar bill, SB 1341, failed in the state Legislature. He’s asked Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg to help steer the local proposal.

“I am looking forward to introducing this proposal to my colleagues after the July board recess to show the state that providing unhoused high school students with guaranteed income sets them up for future success,” Ellenberg said.

Cortese introduced the now-failed state bill in February to provide guaranteed income for five months to help high school seniors until they begin college, vocational training or enter the workforce. His aim was to disrupt the cycle of homelessness and provide access to higher education. The bill died in an Assembly committee this month when it failed to garner enough votes.

Now, Cortese is hoping to bring a similar policy to Santa Clara County. The local proposal, introduced by the progressive lawmaker a day after his bill died, would provide $1,000 a month to local homeless high school seniors from April to August 2023. It’s unclear how much the program will cost, but funding would come from the state.

An unconscionable lack of support

San Jose State University Sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton said the state committee’s lack of support is unconscionable when 11 percent of both California State University and SJSU students are homeless.

For high school students on the cusp of moving onto secondary education, Ellenberg said these extra dollars can make the difference between seeking higher education — or not. According to census data, about 15,000 high school seniors experienced homelessness statewide in the last school year.

“We need to be attacking poverty at every possible inflection point,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. “This transition to post-secondary school or working is an absolutely critical inflection point.”

Cortese is looking to build on the success of the Santa Clara County income program for foster youth transitioning out of the system. His new county proposal would include this group as well.

Santa Clara County in June 2020 approved $1,000 per month in universal basic income for a year to foster youth exiting the foster care system. The first cohort included 72 participants and the second included 50 youth. The foster youth program, set to expire August 2021, was extended six months by county supervisors. They added $500,000 to the initial $900,000 allocation.

Ellenberg plans to bring Cortese’s latest guaranteed income proposal to the Board of Supervisors in August or September. If funding is approved through the state, it could go into effect as soon as next summer. Students could receive funds through a debit card or electronic payment, Ellenberg said.

Vanishing safety nets

According to county reports, there were about 2,518 homeless students in the 2020-21 school year.

Anthony Majano, president of San Jose State University Student Homeless Alliance, said the situation often worsens for students already struggling with housing and food insecurity once they graduate and lose safety nets like free lunches.

“College homeless students are unable to do their best and succeed at the rate other students can, and they could have if they weren’t dealing with all these issues,” Majano said.  

He said struggling students who receive guaranteed income would worry less about where their next meal comes from or how to pay their rent — which distracts from their studies.

“The county should be trying to do more for this demographic,” he told San José Spotlight. “College students and children are the future. They should be doing much more to protect these students so they can succeed.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at lorraine@sanjosespotlight.com.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.