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Frequently Asked Questions

What is “guaranteed income”?
A guaranteed income program, sometimes referred to as universal basic income, provides unconditional monthly payments to increase economic security and promote financial mobility for individuals and families. Most public benefits, such as food stamps and subsidized housing, do not promote long term economic security or promote financial mobility because income eligibility for benefits is often very low and misaligned with the actual cost to make ends meet, especially in high-cost areas like Sonoma County.​ Over the past five years, the concept of guaranteed income has been tested in multiple places, including Stockton, Oakland and Marin County. Currently, there are over 100 pilots of guaranteed income across the country, including 22 in California. Learn more about the emerging findings of guaranteed income pilots on the RESOURCES page.


What are the goals of the Sonoma County Pathway to Income Equity (PIE) Guaranteed Income pilot?

The PIE pilot program aims to increase family economic stability and alleviate financial stressors for 305 lower income pregnant and parenting families with young children in Sonoma County. The households have been randomly selected from a pool of eligible applicants, eligibility verified and will begin to receive monthly payments of $500 in February, 2023.

The impacts of the pilot on participating households will be tracked, analyzed and reported out to the community to raise awareness, promote dialogue and influence policy to elevate the critical importance of economic security for families with young children.

Who was eligible to apply to participate in the pilot?

To be eligible to apply during the for the PIE pilot application window in November, 2022, individuals were a) pregnant and/or had at least one child under 6 years old; AND, b) had a gross annual household income at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level; and c) had been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Why is the Sonoma PIE pilot focused on pregnant and parenting families with young children?

A 2021 United Ways of California study, the Real Cost Measure in California, revealed that 52 percent of Sonoma County households with children under 6 struggle to cover basic needs. Single mothers are most likely to struggle; 67 percent in the county were living below the study’s self-sufficiency standard. Research shows conclusively that poverty is closely tied to a child’s lack of readiness to succeed in kindergarten, poor academic achievement, a higher likelihood of dropping out of high school, and multiple long-term adverse health outcomes.

Is giving parents cash a disincentive to work?

Emerging data from other guaranteed income pilots reveals that most recipients of guaranteed income not only work, but sometimes have more than one job, and that the additional cash has led to increases in recipients’ financial stability, in part by enabling new opportunities for self-determination and goal-setting. Also, due to lack of access to paid family leave combined with the high cost of child care, some lower wage earners may have limited options to earn an income while their children are very young. In addition, many public benefits and subsidy programs penalize parents from earning too much, making it extremely challenging to achieve financial mobility.


If the cash payments are unconditional, how can GI programs ensure that recipients spend the money responsibility?

Analyses of monthly expenditures by participants in other pilots have shown that the largest spending category is typically food, followed by utility payments, auto repair, child care and transportation.

What organizations are involved with implementing PIE?

The project is led by First 5 Sonoma County, in collaboration with the Sonoma County Guaranteed Basic Income Coalition, a group of nine community-based organizations across the county and Fund for Guaranteed Income (F4GI). See a list of partners on the ABOUT PIE page.


What is the cost of the pilot and how is it funded?

The $5.4 million effort is funded by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, the city councils of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg, as well as Corazón Healdsburg and First 5 Sonoma County. More than 90 percent of the pilot project funding is from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), intended to help the residents of our county recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those most negatively impacted.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors allocated $3,045,250 in ARPA funding for the pilot. Additional ARPA funding includes $1,008,000 from the City of Santa Rosa and $636,000 from the City of Petaluma. Corazón Healdsburg has committed $600,000 to support the project (of which $250,000 was contributed by the City of Healdsburg). First 5 Sonoma County will leverage approximately $200,000 in funding from the state’s Prop. 10 tobacco tax


How was income eligibility calculated?

The income threshold for eligibility to be selected as a participant in the PIE Guaranteed Income Pilot was set at a gross household income (before taxes) of 185% or less of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). This number depends on the number of individuals the household/family unit. For example, in 2022, a household of 3 with a gross monthly income of $3,551 or less, or a gross annual income of $42,606 or less would meet the criteria for at or below 185% of the FPL.          


What does “impacted by COVID-19” mean with regard to applicant eligibility?

From March 2000 up until recently, many people across the country and in Sonoma County lost jobs, income, childcare and housing for reasons related to COVID-19, directly or indirectly due to one or a combination of factors, such as illness caused by the virus, illness of a family member, slow down of the local economy causing businesses to lay off workers and many other “ripple effects”. Applicants for participation in the PIE pilot were asked whether one or more of the following three statements applied to how their household has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • “I lost my job because of COVID-19”

  • “I lost some or all of my income (missed work, no child care available, caring for someone with COVID) because of COVID-19”

  • “I have been evicted or lost my housing because of COVID-19"

Were certain geographic areas prioritized in the selection of pilot participants?

Yes, the selection of participants prioritized applicants (at least 75% of participants) that reside in specific Qualified Census Tracts which are closely aligned with the areas in our county with the lowest overall income, education and life expectancy/health levels, as illuminated by the Portrait of Sonoma County 2021 Update. One of the core intentions of ARPA recovery funding is to address the significantly greater negative health and economic impacts of the pandemic experienced by people living in specific geographies and by Black and Indigenous people and other People of Color.


Why were more People of Color than white people selected?

Every state and community in the United States has a long history of discriminatory housing policies that segregated communities and neighborhoods by class and race. These policies included redlining, that ensured individuals in minority neighborhoods were denied mortgages, and racially restrictive covenants, which prohibited people of color from owning, leasing, or occupying certain pieces of property regardless of their income. Additionally, until 1976, many single women were prevented from accessing credit and mortgages without a man’s signature. Neighborhoods historically affected by redlining, racism, and sexism also experienced the highest rates of mortgage foreclosure during the Great Recession. Due to this legacy, residential segregation and racialized concentrated poverty persist, especially in more urban areas. Given the PIE pilot eligibility criteria and the prioritized geographic areas for this pilot, households with fewer financial resources and also Black and Indigenous people and other People of Color were more likely to be eligible, to apply and to be selected.

Are selected participants required to participate in research surveys and interviews?

Participation in the PIE pilot research activities is optional for participants, however they will be encouraged to share their experiences related to how the guaranteed monthly income impacts their household economic stability and mobility, family dynamics, parenting and other factors. Additional cash stipends will be offered to those participants that choose to participate evaluation activities.


Does the guaranteed income impact participants’ eligibility for public benefits, such as CalFresh and CalWORKs?

Guaranteed income is intended to raise the income floor for participating households, not to replace critical public benefits that families depend on. The California Department of Social Services has provided a waiver ensures the guaranteed income payments received by Sonoma PIE participants will be excluded from income eligibility calculation for CalFresh and CalWORKs. In addition, there is legislation in place to exclude GI income from several other benefit programs, including the CA State Preschool Program. All selected applicants have received benefits counseling upon enrollment in the program to ensure they understand any negative impact on public benefits that they and/or their children receive and can make an informed choice about whether to participate.


How will we learn about the impacts of the Sonoma PIE GI pilot?

First 5 is partnering with the evaluation firm, Social Policy Research Associates to conduct interviews and surveys to understand the experiences of families and document the impacts of stable income on family functioning, child development, mental health and other factors. The first evaluation report will be available in early spring, 2024, with a final report available in early 2025, after the conclusion of the pilot in December, 2024.

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