Fresno program to give unrestricted monthly cash payments to families. Do you qualify?

A long-awaited program that will give unrestricted monthly cash payments to Fresno families experiencing poverty will launch this summer.

On Thursday, the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission announced the start of its guaranteed basic income program, Advancing Fresno County Guaranteed Income, which will give 150 qualifying families in southwest Fresno and Huron $500 per month for 12 months. The anti-poverty initiative will allow families to spend the money on anything they like.

The program, which will start accepting applications on March 15, comes after years of advocacy by local community leaders and an unsuccessful bid for state funds from a $35 million California program to fund guaranteed basic income pilot projects statewide. In November 2022, the state announced awards for seven programs, but Fresno was not among the chosen projects.

In a news release, Fresno Economic Opportunities CEO Emilia Reyes thanked the foundations that helped bring the $1 million pilot program to life.

“We made a way out of no way,” she said. ”Our local community did not let the state’s decision to leave the Central Valley out of its Guaranteed Income Pilot Program funding in 2022 end the vision to implement this anti-poverty idea here in our region, which has some of the highest poverty rates in the nation.”

In Fresno County, 18% of residents experience poverty, according to U.S. Census data, with the rate jumping up to 22% in the city of Fresno.

In recent years, the poverty-fighting strategy has grown in popularity in California and nationwide after former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs lauched a similar initiative in 2019.

Critics told Tubbs at the time that the cash payments would dissuade people from working. But his pilot has been widely celebrated as a model for success — especially after an analysis of the pilot found that employment actually increased from 28% to 40% among program participants after a year. The study found that people spent the money on basic necessities such as rent, food, and transportation.

Supporters say Fresno’s program is unique because it will serve both rural and urban communities.

“It’s exciting to see guaranteed income pilot projects grow in the San Joaquin Valley. Former Mayor Michael Tubbs spearheaded this program in Stockton and witnessed great results. Now, some Fresno County residents will have the opportunity to see its impact and determine how more families can benefit across the Valley,” Ashley Swearengin, former Fresno mayor and president and chief executive officer of the Central Valley Community Foundation, said in the news release.

Funders of the program Fresno include The California Wellness Foundation, which is providing half of this project’s funding,The California Endowment, Central Valley Community Foundation, Delta Dental Community Care Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Sierra Health Foundation and Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Fresno EOC will provide financial and administrative support and the Center for Community Voices at Fresno State will help evaluate the program.

How to qualify?

In order to qualify, households must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an adult over 18 that is pregnant or has a child or children zero to five

  • Reside in the 93706 zip code in southwest Fresno or the 93234 in Huron, which are some of Fresno County’s zip codes with the highest rates of poverty

  • Earn an annual income that is 80% or less than the area median income, $35,103 for those in Huron and $30,615 for those residing in the 93706 zip code

Qualifying residents an apply regardless of immigration status. Selected participants will receive an income exemption waiver from the California Department of Social Services for CalWORKs and CalFresh in order to continue qualifying for existing benefits.

Applications are scheduled to open March 15 and close May 15 and will be available through Fresno EOC’s Guaranteed Income website.

Eligible participants will be able to apply online or in person at locations in the two priority zip codes, with informational sessions to be held in March.

Individuals will be selected randomly through a lottery system.