MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - The State of California is on the cusp of a national wave of help for the country’s lowest wage earners. Multiple cities are starting programs providing a guaranteed basic income.
"Today we are launching an innovative pilot program!" said a Mountain View official Thursday afternoon. The city became the latest, but likely not the last, to offer a guaranteed basic income.
"It’s about lifting Mountain View families up and out of poverty," said Mayor Lucas Ramirez.
The two-year "Elevate MV" pilot program starts taking applications Friday. The pool of applicants will be trimmed to 166 participants, and one control group. Starting around Christmas, each participant will receive $500 a month.
"When you give low-income folks money, direct money rather than prescriptive top-down programs, they will use their own networks. They will use their own expertise, to lift themselves out of poverty," said democrat Calif. St. Sen. Josh Becker, who represents parts of Santa Clara County, including Mountain View and Palo Alto.
Mountain View’s cost of living can cause sticker shock. The average cost of a home is nearly $3M, more than half of residents are renters, and 6.5% of people live below the poverty line.
As a result, Mountain View’s newest neighborhoods are on wheels..
"It’s just the rent amigo…From $1,900 to $2,500. And she says, ‘I have to raise the rent again,’" said resident Hector Hernandez.
The crippling economics pushed the part-time chef into a 27-foot RV, which is parked on a Mountain View street.
"If they can help somebody else, I’ll be very happy. There’s a lot of people struggling here," he said.
Participants must be residents, make less than 30% of the median annual income, and have at least one child.
Other California cities, from Santa Rosa, Peteluma, and Healdsburg in the North Bay to Los Angeles in the Southland, have instituted similar guaranteed income programs. In all there are four-dozen similar pilot programs nation-wide..
Some experts believe these efforts are akin to throwing good money after bad, into an every growing bureaucracy.
"In general, no, people on these kinds of transfer programs tend to stay on them," said Prof. John Rosen, a Univ. of New Haven economist. "If you give people money, it’s a good chance it won’t be spent on stuff that will lift people out of poverty."
In a response to critics of such programs, Mountain View’s mayor said, "We have to look at the data. And if this doesn’t’ work, ok, we’ll try something else."
The application time frame goes from Sept. 16 – 25. Officials hope to have the first checks delivered by mid-December.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter @JesseKTVU and Instagram @jessegontv