Palm Springs turns to guaranteed income to lift transgender residents out of poverty

The city hopes a new state fund will allow it to become the latest municipality to roll out a UBI pilot program for marginalized residents.

Jacob Rostovsky is already answering questions about enrolling in a basic income pilot program designed to support transgender and gender non-conforming Palm Springs residents. The program has not yet started – in fact, the request for public funds to start the pilot project has not even been submitted. But the need for constant and unconditional financial support is so great that residents are already knocking on Rostovsky’s door.

Rostovsky is the executive director and founder of Queer Works, a Palm Springs-based organization that provides low-cost or free mental health care and affirmation treatment to transgender, non-binary, and intersex people. He is also a key community leader leading the fundraising process to launch a citywide guaranteed income program to support transgender and non-binary residents.

Guaranteed income, sometimes called universal basic income, was a fringe political idea less than 10 years ago. But now it is establishing itself as an effective, evidence-based method for improving overall quality of life, job retention, and mental health. The premise: give people money and their lives will improve. For transgender and gender non-binary people who suffer from rates of housing insecurity, homelessness and unemployment that dwarf those of cisgender and gender-normative people, unrestricted payments could make a significant difference in their daily lives.

“We’re not even playing at the same level as cis people in poverty,” Rostovsky says. “We are on a whole different level.

Transgender women have poverty rates as high as 30%, or nearly thrice the general population rate, says Bianca Wilson, a senior public policy fellow at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Poverty rates are highest among Black and Latinx transgender people, with up to 41% of black transgender people report having been homeless. It’s not one factor — housing, transportation or lack of access to health care — that contributes to poverty, but the combination of social, economic and racial factors, Wilson says.

Transgender and gender non-conforming people who suffer from low incomes (and resulting mental health, physical health and quality of life issues) are excluded from a number of social and economic structures.

“Just trying to find a job is also impacted by being poor,” Wilson says, explaining that there are the formal barriers, such as housing insecurity and lack of consistent access to facilities, or lack of access to reliable transportation. But there are also cultural barriers, like when an employer likes what they see on a resume, but is prejudiced against the person sitting in front of them. A 2011 Lambda Legal investigation found that 26% of respondents lost their job because of their gender identity or expression.

There are federal protections against gender-based discrimination in housing and employment, which includes transgender and non-binary gender people, but laws can only correct for that, given the cyclical nature of poverty, Wilson says. The overwhelming majority, approximately 73%of economically insecure LGBTQ adults suffered from childhood poverty, according to the Williams Institute, which means that transgender and gender non-conforming adults are economically punished for their LGBTQ+ identity as adults.

The idea of ​​offering cash payments to low-income people first made waves in 2019, when Stockton, Calif. Mayor Michael D. Tubbs spear a guaranteed income program for 125 city residents, who received $500 a month for two years. After two years of Guaranteed Income benefits, the City of Stockton found that retention in full-time employment increased by 12%and Rostovsky hopes that the potential launch of a program in Palm Springs will yield similarly positive results.

Guaranteed income has been thrust into the limelight in 2020 by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, with other political heavyweights conforming to their own proposals to ensure that individuals, families and children impoverished had access to more cash. There is plenty of evidence that giving money reduces poverty and increased mental health, which is essential given the high rates of depression in the transgender community and which 40% of transgender people will attempt suicide in their lifetime.

Today, guaranteed income programs are being piloted or formalized in cities across the country, from Chicago to Phoenix to Tacoma. Each program is different, designed to meet the needs of people in difficulty in each city. For example, a guaranteed income program in Jackson supports black mothers with 12 monthly payments of $1,000, while a Santa Fe Program offers $400 per month to parents under 30 enrolled at Santa Fe Community College.

In May 2021, the State of California announcement that it would disperse $35 million for guaranteed income pilot programs, where the Palm Springs program intends to draw its funds. The application for funding is not yet open, but the Palm Springs City Council approved Funding of $200,000 for program research which will form the bulk of the application.

Rostovsky and others want to design a program that is fair and responsive to the needs of the city’s poor and low-income transgender residents, which he says has historically acted as a haven for marginalized LGBTQ+ people. And while the research-based pilot program app funding announcement was welcomed by some townspeople, Rostovsky hopes they will come to see the monthly payments as much-needed support for a long-neglected community. .

Rostovsky says most of the pushbacks come from cisgender residents who don’t understand the economic precariousness that many trans people live in, or that the request for funding is meant to kick-start what Rostovsky calls a “research project.” Rostovsky says he plans to use this time to educate the community about the impact a basic income program could have for trans residents.

A guaranteed income pilot program in San Francisco will start slightly earlier than the one planned for Palm Springs, as early as October 2022. The program will be managed by the Mayor’s Office of Transgender Initiatives in partnership with two organizations, Le Quartier Transgender and Santé Community Lyon-Martin.

With city funding, partner organizations will distribute $1,200 per month to 55 transgender and gender non-binary residents for a period of 24 months. While in Palm Springs payouts will likely hover around $500, organizations in San Francisco believe that $1,200 is enough money doled out over enough time to glean what the impact of having money will be. in hand for those who live the longest expensive place in the countryside.

“It really is [the] preventing deaths in our community,” says JM Jaffe, CEO of Lyon-Martin Community Health.

For a sense of scale, low-income people in San Francisco are categorized as someone earning $82,000 or less a year, and Jaffe says monthly payments will provide a “night and day” change in the lives of transgender recipients. and not binary. .

Jaffe and their team at Lyon-Martin, along with The Transgender District, are still in the early stages of designing program parameters to determine what their application screening process will be. The main objective is the fairness of the program, while ensuring that the funds will be considered a gift rather than taxable income, that the funds will not affect a recipient’s federal benefits such as disability benefits, and that undocumented beneficiaries will also be able to receive funds even if they do not have a bank account.

Once the application is launched in October, staff from both organizations will help potential recipients complete the forms and ultimately select those who will participate in the pilot program. The funds will be distributed by the Treasury office. But as with most guaranteed income pilot programs, the need for support far exceeds the scope of the program. Jaffe says Lyon-Martin alone sees 3,000 patients a year, 90% of whom live at 200% of the federal poverty level.

“I hope the city sees how impactful this is and can really make a difference in the lives of the trans community and our disproportionate experience of poverty,” Jaffe said.

Ray Levy Uyeda is a Bay Area-based freelance writer who focuses on gender, politics, and activism.

Julio V. Miller