Mountain View is joining a growing number of cities exploring how it might help provide the community's most vulnerable with a guaranteed basic income.
On Tuesday night, Feb. 22, the Mountain View City Council voted 6-1, with councilmember Lisa Matichak opposed, to approve a pilot program to give $500 per month to 166 people over the course of one year, with the possibility to extend the duration of the program to two years later on.
To be eligible for the program, called "Elevate MV," a person has to live in Mountain View, be considered "extremely low-income" or earning less than 30% of the area median income or $49,700 for a family of four, and be a parent or guardian of a child under 18. People will be eligible for the program regardless of immigration status. They also must continue to live in Mountain View for the duration of the pilot program.
The bulk of the funding for the program, $1 million, comes from federal funds allocated to the city of Mountain View through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, or ARPA for short. In addition, the council agreed Tuesday to authorize spending for an additional $580,500 from the city's general non-operating fund to pay for additional unfunded parts of the pilot project, including research and implementation contracts.
To implement the program, the council agreed to contract with Mountain View's Community Services Agency to administer the program for $358,366, covering the costs of two full-time case manager staff members, temporary hourly staff, subcontracting and administration costs. It also agreed to contract with the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania for $212,000 to conduct a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the pilot program.
Mountain View is among a number of cities across the U.S. exploring the potential impacts of a guaranteed basic income program. According to Kimberly Thomas, assistant to the City Manager, there are 32 cities participating in guaranteed basic income research of various types. Some other cities have received additional grants to cover research costs, but others, such as Los Angeles, are paying more than Mountain View to cover the research costs, she said.
Councilmember Sally Lieber expressed concerns that the research cost of more than $200,000 seemed "relatively high compared to the amount we're going to give out to needy people" — which is $1 million. But she ultimately voted in favor of it.
As part of her explanation for why she supports the program, councilwoman Ellen Kamei cited the 2022 "State of the Valley" report by Joint Ventures Silicon Valley, which reports that in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, nearly half — 46% — of the region's children live in households that do not make enough money for basic necessities. Outside of taxes, the biggest part of those costs is the cost of childcare, according to the report.
"What I've always appreciated about Mountain View is that we're always willing to try something," Kamei said. "I think this pilot with the research component will help us gather the data to see if something we're trying works. ... I think everything helps at this point."
Vice Mayor Alison Hicks pushed to have the pilot program still apply to households that, for whatever reason, might move out of the city while the pilot program is under way, but other council members favored restricting the program to Mountain View residents who remain in Mountain View.
In the spirit of a "no strings attached" contribution to those households, she said, she would hate to see a household that received a good job offer or a less expensive housing opportunity outside of city limits hesitate to take advantage of those chances because of concerns about losing out on the guaranteed basic income stipend.
"I think that we are trying to help Mountain View residents, so I think that's a reasonable requirement," council member Pat Showalter responded. "I do feel that this is Mountain View money and we should be helping Mountain View residents with this."
Council member Lisa Matichak said she wouldn't be voting for the program because she had concerns about it, felt that the topic of basic income should be addressed at a different level of government, such as the federal level, and opposed spending city money beyond what it received through federal ARPA funds.
Mayor Lucas Ramirez said he felt that the research costs were a "justified expenditure" because "the results will help inform local policy." Findings from the research could help the city develop recommendations to better serve low-income residents, he added.
Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination: Home, a public-private partnership working to end homelessness in Santa Clara County, told the council that the partnership supports the pilot program.
"We know that these types of programs of supplemental income can truly make a difference between homelessness and stable housing and long-term self sufficiency," he said.
Launching the program
With the program now approved, over the next couple of months, the city plans to work through a lengthy list of tasks to prepare to launch it.
These include finalizing contracts and participant surveys, obtaining approval for the design of the pilot program from an Institutional Review Board, recruiting a case manager at Community Services Agency and a research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania to staff the program and more, according to staff.
The city plans to launch the program around June and may put out an application to recruit participants before then.
People can sign up for an interest list here to be notified about additional updates and access the application for the program when it becomes available.