How to Apply for Oakland's Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot Program

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The Fox Theater in Oakland on March 11, 2021. The city is the latest to host a guaranteed income pilot program.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Applications opened Tuesday for East Oakland residents to apply to receive $500 a month for 18 months as part of Oakland’s new guaranteed income program. It is the latest experiment in a nationwide movement to aid low-income families by providing direct cash payments with no strings attached.

Three hundred residents will be selected for the Oakland Resilient Families program which prioritizes Black, Indigenous and people of color who are making less than $60,650 annually for a family of three. The program will expand to 300 more families citywide this summer in other parts of Oakland and is open to undocumented residents.

Applicants will need to upload a file that demonstrates proof of residence, like a driver's license or other state ID, during the application process. Bills or paycheck stubs can also substitute for IDs. Applicants will also need to share information about annual household income to determine if they're eligible for the program.

Visit the Oakland Resilient Families website to apply.

“Poverty is not a personal failure, it is a policy failure,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said at a press conference. “And the policy of guaranteed income is one that is designed to lift up the dignity of individuals and chart their own path to self-sufficiency.”

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A key premise of the basic income experiments is to let residents use the payments however they see fit, bucking the post-welfare reform trend of placing requirements or restrictions around government aid.

The city initially asked exclusively for applicants of color, however, its website now states all residents who meet the program's criteria are welcome to apply, regardless of race.

District 6 City Councilmember Loren Taylor, whose district serves East Oakland, said the city will start outreach on Saturday into the one-block radius of East Oakland initially being targeted by the demonstration project, in partnership with 200 nonprofit organizations that are helping to get the word out.

Taylor said some 9,000 people have already subscribed to the email list to be notified when applications become available.

”We've got a lot of work ahead of ourselves over the next 22 days as we get as many of the eligible families as possible to complete the applications for phase one,” Taylor said. “Our focused outreach is to focus on the roughly one square mile between Havenscourt to 94th Avenue and between International and MacArthur Boulevard.”

The program is one of several guaranteed income programs throughout the Bay Area. Santa Clara began one a year ago, and Marin began one last month. Others in San Francisco are also underway.

In Stockton, which completed its program in February of last year, initial results showed that families who got the stipends were more likely to get jobs, be able to afford child care, and the cash helped them cover unexpected expenses with most of it being spent on basic necessities.

Oakland's program doesn't quite meet the threshold of a true "universal" basic income program, the program's operators said. UBI, as opposed to guaranteed income, is meant to go to everyone and provide enough of a payment to cover all basic needs. By contrast, a guaranteed income is meant to provide an income floor but not meant to be a replacement for wages, and can also be targeted to those who most need it, according to Oakland's guaranteed basic income website.

Treva Reid, District 7 councilmember also serving East Oakland, said the Oakland neighborhood is disproportionately impacted by economic inequities, and that the weight of “multiple pandemics and systemic challenges” has only further harmed many of the residents.

"For many of our low-income residents in East Oakland, an additional $500 means having much-needed money to maintain their housing, to pay their rent, to pay for child care, to secure resources that not only will help economically support their families," Reid said, adding that the program could help stabilize these families to prevent them from being pushed out of Oakland.

KQED’s Guy Marzorati contributed to this story.