Public Sector Solutions, Children & Families, Impact Investing Advisory Services

Communities across the country are experimenting with a novel solution to addressing economic hardship: Putting no-strings-attached money into the pockets of people who need it the most. There are more than 100 pilot programs nationwide testing this approach called guaranteed income (GI) but California manages one of the largest such initiatives—a $35 million, five-year effort managed by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) that will provide monthly, unconditional cash payments to nearly 2,000 Californians, with a focus on pregnant individuals and former foster youth.

Over the last two years, Social Finance has been working with CDSS to design, launch, and implement this program, which represents a major milestone in the GI movement as the first state-level, publicly funded investment in GI. And with the Urban Institute on board to evaluate the initiative, the results from this work in California could help shape future GI efforts of similar scale.

“Our state-funded guaranteed income pilot program will disrupt poverty and support well-being for low-income Californians at critical moments of transition: the birth of a child or aging out of extended foster care,” Katie Clarkin, Program Director, Office of Family Engagement and Empowerment Initiatives, CDSS, said. “Social Finance has played an integral role at each step of the process, tracking all the moving pieces and supporting both program design and implementation. We’re excited for the pilot program to generate learnings that will shape broader efforts across the U.S. and beyond.”

Developing a Statewide Guaranteed Income Program

The Social Finance team first partnered with CDSS on this work back in 2021 with the development of a request for application (RFA) for eligible entities in the state looking to apply for GI funding from CDSS to develop localized pilots under the agency’s supervision. In the end, we supported CDSS in selecting seven sites to administer GI pilots, each with unique government, nonprofit, and/or tribal partners.

GI Pilot Projects Across California

These seven state-funded pilot programs will provide approximately 1,975 individuals across California with monthly payments ranging from $600-$1,200 per month, for a period of 12-18 months.

Here’s how we’ve supported CDSS implementation of the GI pilot program:

1. Strategic project management and stakeholder coordination

Coordinate activities across partners overseeing the pilot program, including tracking priorities and timelines, supporting communications, and facilitating governance meetings to support decision making.

2. Stakeholder and community engagement

Lead stakeholder and community engagement sessions and focus groups and provide consolidated recommendations to inform program design.

3. Program design and grantee selection

Managed request for application process for selecting grantees, focused on balancing CDSS program goals with flexibility for grantees to design locally responsive, community-centered programs.

4. Performance Management

Design and implement a collaborative approach for supporting ongoing performance of the pilot programs, enabling program partners such as pilots, CDSS, and the Urban Institute, to discuss insights from performance data and make program adjustments accordingly.

5. Pilot cohort learning support

Coordinate a community of practice among CDSS-funded pilots, including hosting knowledge sharing convenings, inviting guest speakers, and consolidating resources.

6. Pooled Philanthropic Fund Launch

Launch and manage the California Guaranteed Income Pooled Fund, which enabled select pilots, particularly those representing under-resourced communities such as Tribal nations, the Central Valley, and the north state, to meet the program’s funding match requirements.

The Future of Guaranteed Income

As the seven pilots begin disbursing GI payments to pregnant people and former foster youth across California, we will continue our partnership with CDSS to support program oversight and consolidate early lessons learned from the implementation process. We hope the learnings from this groundbreaking pilot will help advance a systems-level approach to reimagining income support and social safety net programs, elevating GI as a policy tool that can support economic stability and mobility for families with low incomes.

Throughout this process, we’ve been fortunate to work with GI communities of practice—these include the California GI Community of Practice and national GI Community of Practice—that foster a supportive ecosystem for practitioners and coordinate advocacy and thought leadership to advance GI. This strong multi sector partnership, which encompasses community leaders and advocates; local, state, and federal government bodies; research institutions; funders; and others, is critical to the success and expansion of GI. And we look forward to continuing to advance approaches like GI that can provide the stability, empowerment, and agency needed for everyone to reach their potential.

Learn more about our guaranteed income work in California  

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