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Humboldt County tests guaranteed income pilot program for pregnant people

The staff of the McKinleyville Family Resource Center. Robin Baker is on the far left.
Brianne Nicole Photography
The staff of the McKinleyville Family Resource Center. Robin Baker is on the far left.

A social services organization in McKinleyville, CA is offering money to low-income pregnant people, with no strings attached.

The McKinleyville Family Resource Center is one of seven organizations in different parts of the state that received grants from the California Department of Social Services. It’s part of an approximately $25 million program to study the impacts of guaranteed income on two populations: pregnant people and former foster youth. Data and survey results will be evaluated by the Urban Institute and the University of California, Berkeley.

The Resource Center will pay 150 pregnant people $920 a month for 18 months. Applications are still being accepted.

Robin Baker, co-executive director and program manager for the Humboldt Income Program, said the program has enrolled 108 people so far.

"We know that pregnancy and those first months of life are really impactful for the entire lifespan for people and for mothers and parents. And so if we can provide economic security at that time, we believe that that's going to set families up for success in the long term," she said.

The Humboldt Income Program has been enrolling participants since December, and Baker estimates that the program will have spots open for another six to eight weeks.

However, recipients will be chosen randomly to be in the study, so a total of 150 applicants will receive the full monthly benefits, and 100 other applicants will receive only $20 a month.

Baker is hoping the money will have a lot of positive impacts on local children and families.

"Economic security often is linked to improved mental health. It is one of the core components for reducing instances of child abuse and neglect when you can remove that financial pressure for families," she said.

According to materials from the CDSS, the pilot program seeks to evaluate the impacts of a guaranteed income, including perception and stigma around it, as well as its interaction with other safety net programs.

Other studies in California have shown that people who received guaranteed income increased their financial security, improved their health and spent the money mostly on necessities like food and utilities.

"We believe in supporting people to be autonomous and reaching the goals that they identify for themselves. And often, the barriers we see to health and well-being for families is that economic insecurity," Baker said. "A program like guaranteed income backs up that belief that people are experts and that they will make the best choices for themselves and their families when given the opportunity."

Approximately $2.3 million for this project comes from the CDSS. Baker said the Resource Center had to raise just over $1.1 million to fully finance the program.

There will be a four-month evaluation period after the program concludes to determine next steps.

Applicants for the Humboldt Income Program must be less than 28 weeks pregnant at the time of enrollment, at least 18 years old, live in Humboldt County and be at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. That's $29,160 for one person, not including the unborn child. Participants must also be referred by one of the Resource Center's partners.

Additional details can be found on the McKinleyville Family Resource Center’s website.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.