SF mayor's trans basic income program accepting applicants

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday November 17, 2022
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Mayor London Breed has announced that applications are being accepted for the city's basic income pilot program for trans residents. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Mayor London Breed has announced that applications are being accepted for the city's basic income pilot program for trans residents. Photo: Rick Gerharter

More than a year after Mayor London Breed announced a program guaranteeing basic income for trans people, the program is up and finally accepting applicants. The program, one of several in San Francisco, began taking applications this week and will continue doing so until December 15.

The pilot Guaranteed Income for Trans People, or GIFT, program will provide 55 low-income transgender San Franciscans with $1,200 each month, for up to 18 months, to help them improve their financial security. The program is different from the similar sounding guaranteed basic universal income scheme — a larger goal sought by many of the idea's supporters — in that it targets specific populations. While a basic universal income, should it ever be instituted, would provide payments to the general public, guaranteed income programs benefit specific communities. In San Francisco, similar efforts provide support to artists disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Black and Pacific Islander persons who are pregnant.

Similar pilot programs have been launched in cities around the country, according to the website Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. In California alone, 11 cities have launched pilot programs, including San Francisco and Oakland. The mayors of numerous other communities in the state have also expressed support for these programs.

The idea for a trans-oriented program, according to Pau Crego, executive director of the city's Office of Transgender Initiatives, "was originally advocated for by OTI's Transgender Advisory Committee as part of their Trans Advocacy Week in April, 2021."

The following June 1, the mayor's office announced plans for a program including up to 150 participants, who each would receive $1,000 each month for up to a year under the guaranteed income pilot project, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The program would cost $2 million over two years, the paper reported at the time.

Over the subsequent year, the plan for the pilot program changed, however. After officials determined they would be able to glean more information about the impact of the program by lengthening the test period to 18 months, the proposal was altered to the version now open for applicants.

Basic income, while an idea that has been around for quite some time, really gained wider recognition after the city of Stockton, under the tutelage of then-mayor Michael Tubbs, initiated the first-of-its-kind program in 2019. Chosen randomly, 125 Stocktonians were given $500 a month for two years, with no strings attached. The money was theirs to do with as they wished. The results, as published in a white paper following the program's first year, February 2019 through February 2020, were very encouraging.

Key findings included "that the unconditional cash reduced the month-to-month income fluctuations that households face, increased recipients' full-time employment by 12 percentage points and decreased their measurable feelings of anxiety and depression, compared with their control-group counterparts," NPR reported in March 2021.

That meshes well with the needs of the city's trans community, officials said.

"Our guaranteed income programs allow us to help our residents when they need it most as part of our city's economic recovery and our commitment to creating a more just city for all," Breed stated in a news release.

"Transgender communities experience poverty and economic instability at disproportionate rates," according to a statement from Breed's office announcing the program. "In 2015, when the U.S. Trans Survey was last conducted, 33% of trans Californians were living in poverty, compared to 12% of people in the general population. The percentage among trans people who are also Black, Indigenous and people of color is even higher."

Lyon-Martin Community Health, which provides health care services for trans and cisgender women, as well as nonbinary persons, will be handling the applications as well as providing subsequent wraparound services, such as full-scope health care, case management, therapies, psychiatry, and other gender-affirming services in-house.

Two coordinators and one case manager will be on hand to help people with the application process, according to information from the clinic. Officials hope to let applicants know whether they've been accepted by the end of the year.

Program participants will be asked to take part in quarterly surveys, which will be used to study the program's impacts. It's not required but the information provided could prove enormously helpful, particularly as organizers try to determine the impact of poverty on health.

Previous studies, most notably following the Stockton pilot program, found that guaranteed income also plays a role in improving overall health by decreasing levels of anxiety and depression that often accompany poverty.

"Guaranteed income falls in line with all of the studies we've seen for over 100 years that suggest that as people's economic standing improves, their health also improves," stated Lorraine T. Dean, doctor of science and an associate professor in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, in an article about the effects of guaranteed income on health.

Concerns that accepting the payments might undermine benefits people are already receiving are worth looking into, said Amanda Fried, chief of policy and communications with the San Francisco Office of Treasurer and Tax Collector. Those receiving Social Security could be affected. Medi-Cal, however, presents no problems, she said.

"In general, there's much less of an impact on benefits than people fear," Fried said. "These grants are treated as gifts, not as income."

The program is being welcomed by leaders in the city's trans community.

"I'm thrilled that the city is partnering with two amazing community-based and trans-led organizations to implement this much-needed program," Crego told the B.A.R. "My hope is that this is only the beginning, and that once we document the positive outcomes of supporting those most impacted by poverty, we can expand on this and other strategies to improve economic and health outcomes for trans San Franciscans."

Aria Sa'id, president and chief strategist of the Transgender District, said the program would help trans San Franciscans become independent.

"The GIFT program is a historic program that will build economic stability and self-sufficiency for San Francisco's most impacted trans residents," Sa'id stated in the release. "By giving low-income trans people the resources to cover the expenses they deem most immediate and important given each person's unique situation, we are implementing a truly community-centered intervention to combat poverty. The Transgender District is thrilled to partner with Lyon-Martin Community Health Services and the city on this pilot program."

People interested in applying for San Francisco's Guaranteed Income Program for Trans People can apply online at GiftIncome.org.

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