SAN JOSE, Calif. — California Sen. Dave Cortese is on a mission to deliver $1,000 in monthly assistance to hundreds of foster kids who are aging out of the system.
Senate Bill 739, the Transition Age Foster Youth Act, would provide a direct, unconditional monthly stipend of $1,000 to the 2,500 California youths who at 21-years-old are set to age out of the state’s Extended Foster Care System on an annual basis.
“Transitional-age foster youth are essentially the children of the state. They’re our kids. They fall on tremendous hardship as it is. Typically, the system hasn’t been working well for them over the years,” Cortese said.
In addition to the hardships of just being in the foster care system, Cortese said the coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard on the youths who are the subject of his bill.
According to Cortese, since the shelter-in-place order took effect in summer 2020, about 23% of the foster youth said they had missed a meal. Almost 25% were having difficulty paying for housing, and almost half were struggling to just have a place to live. That mix of problems is why Cortese says a prescriptive approach won’t work.
“This approach says, ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s try empowering them by giving them a stipend of $1,000 a month,’ which we believe will keep a large percentage of them out of the systems we want them to stay out of, like the justice system,” Cortese explained. “What the guaranteed income does is it says we recognize the fact that you’re not all in the same situation.”
The program is modeled after one being tested out in Santa Clara County, which was also championed by Cortese.
“It’s worked without a hitch. In fact, the support testimony that we had at the policy committee level when we were moving this bill along was brought forward by the Behavioral Health Department in the County of Santa Clara, who runs the program along with social services,” he said.
Cortese said money for the program will be provided through a corresponding budget request – separate from this bill – that seeks about $30 million a year for the three years of SB 739’s pilot program. And he feels that with the state’s massive surplus, SB 739 has a great chance of coming to fruition.
“We appear to have the best of both worlds: money and Legislative support. This sailed right out of committee. It’s highly prioritized by my office in appropriations. It’s been viewed as a priority in the budget subcommittees of the state senate. And we know the governor’s office is looking at programs like this as important.”
SB 739 is quickly making its way through the state Legislature, first passing through the Senate Human Services Committee and now onto the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“There’s really no opposition to the bill. Nobody’s nitpicked it for amendments at this point. So, we think that if we can get it onto the floor of both houses, we have a pretty good shot of getting it through,” Cortese said.
If it’s passed, Cortese said he would like to see the program implemented in 2021, where it would be run by the Department of Social Services for three years.
“[The Department of Social Services] seem to be embracing [the program.] They seem to understand how to stand the program up quickly. It’s so much easier than regular stimulus money. Here we know who this population is…which makes it pretty easy to implement.”
And if it’s passed, Cortese said he’d like to see the program continue beyond the three-year pilot program and he feels strongly that the results will show that it can be a revenue-neutral program.
“When you start taking those backend costs out of the program, when less of these foster youths are [ending up back in the system], it starts cutting the costs you don’t want to see, and we think that will be a part of the equation.”
Cortese also shared his bold vision of the future, where similar universal basic income programs can be applied to other demographics like the disabled, special-needs families, and more.
Watch the full interview with Sen. Cortese