GUARANTEE BASIC INCOME FOR ALL FAMILIES
THE COUNTY CAN BETTER PROTECT CHILDREN BY PROVIDING THEIR FAMILIES WITH THE FINANCIAL MEANS TO PROVIDE FOR THEIR CHILDREN, INSTEAD OF REMOVING CHILDREN FROM THEIR HOMES BECAUSE OF “NEGLECT”
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) receives more referrals for “general neglect”(1) than for any other category. Many indications of neglect are plainly the direct result of parents’ inability to provide basic necessities for their children because of poverty. Neglect is defined by the California Welfare and Institutions Code, section 300(b), as “a substantial risk” that the child will suffer serious physical harm or illness as result of the failure of their parent or guardian to provide adequate:
supervision of, or protection for, the child;
food, shelter, or medical treatment; or
care due to mental illness, developmental disability, or substance abuse.(2)
Los Angeles County has one of the highest child poverty rates in California with nearly 23% of children in Los Angeles County living in poverty.(3) Black, immigrant, and Latino households experience higher rates of poverty.(4) These families are therefore at increased risk of coming into contact with DCFS solely on the basis of poverty labeled as “neglect.”(5) This disparity is reflected in the overrepresentation of Black and Latino children under DCFS’ surveillance.(6)
Providing low-income families with a Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) would help prevent the conditions of poverty that are characterized as general neglect. This proposal is especially timely because impoverished families in cities like Los Angeles are increasingly burdened by the rapidly increasing cost of basic necessities including food and housing.(7)
There is reliable data that GBI programs “alleviate poverty and improve health and education outcomes….”(8) Many GBI programs were developed as pilot programs to explore the efficacy of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a related concept that dates back centuries.(9) In a UBI program, the government provides periodic cash assistance to all adult members of a society – regardless of their means – to ensure everyone a standard of living above the poverty line.(10) GBI programs are more targeted than UBI programs because 1) assistance is provided to set group of recipients and 2) the assistance provided might not ensure income above the poverty line.
THE COUNTY CAN PREVENT NEGLECT BY PROVIDING FAMILIES WITH A GUARANTEED BASIC INCOME
Child abuse and child neglect are often conflated but they are different, have different causes, and can be addressed by different methods.(12) “Abuse” encompasses physical and sexual abuse, which are “non-accidental” acts.(13) Neglect, in contrast, is “not intentional” conduct.(14) Neglect is considered a parent’s failure to provide for the child.(15) The child welfare system’s perception of neglect often also reflects cultural and racial biases and contributes to the overrepresentation of youth and families of color in the child welfare system.(16) Significantly, rates of child abuse have been steadily declining in recent decades, but rates of what family policing systems label “child neglect” remain steady and high.(17)
Research shows that poverty both can be a risk factor for child neglect and, as noted above poverty itself can be confused with “neglect.”(18) Although there are no studies to date that specifically analyze the role of UBI or GBI programs in reducing neglect, there is strong evidence that addressing poverty through cash assistance directly to families/caregivers has the impact of reducing what family policing agencies label as neglect.(19)
THE COUNTY SHOULD FUND GBI TO KEEP FAMILIES INTACT RATHER THAN SUPPORT OUT OF HOME PLACEMENTS
When a child is placed in out of home foster care, DCFS pays resource families a base rate of $1,037 to support the child placed in their care.(20) The Board of Supervisors’ recommended budget in FY 2021-22 allocates $21 million solely for raising placement rates and to address the anticipated increase of children in out of home placements.(21)
Existing GBI pilots in Los Angeles offer similar amounts of funding directly to families rather than inflicting the trauma of removing the child and directing government funds to out of home placements. GBI pilot programs in Los Angeles County and City of Los Angeles each offer $1,000 to needy households to assist families with meeting their basic needs.(22)
When provided unrestricted GBI funds, recipients use the money to meet their families’ basic needs and remedy common indicators of child neglect. In a GBI pilot in Stockton, California, participants used their unrestricted funds to primarily purchase food; material goods such as clothing and school supplies; and to cover automobile costs.(23) Unconditional access to cash assistance also enabled recipients to find full-time employment and recipients became healthier, even exhibiting less symptoms of depression and anxiety.(24)
THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS SHOULD IMPLEMENT A GBI PROGRAM FOR FAMILIES INVESTIGATED FOR NEGLECT OR AT RISK FOR DCFS INVOLVEMENT
The program should be developed by and administered in partnership with a Los Angeles-based university team of child welfare experts and researchers. Such a program will provide critical data to support future GBI programmatic expansion and can serve as a model in other jurisdictions.
If the Board is unwilling to commit to implementing such a program at this time, it can instead incorporate appropriate measures into the forthcoming “Breathe: LA County’s Guaranteed Income Program” that would help evaluate the impact of GBI-style cash assistance to families who might otherwise be indicated for child neglect.(25)
The County should prioritize GBI to keep struggling families intact and support parents before contact with DCFS is necessary. The County should collaborate with child welfare practitioners and experts to determine what amount of GBI funding can assist families with meeting their basic needs.
The County should ensure GBI funds are exempt from inclusion in eligibility calculations for other vital benefit programs such as CalWORKS and CalFRESH.(26)
1. 35% of referrals; 41,162 children. DCFS Fact Sheet, FY 2020-2021, https://dcfs.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/DCFS-FACTSHEET-FY-2020-2021.pdf.
2. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(b); See also, The ABC’s of Los Angeles Children’s Court, https://extraordinaryfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ABCs-of-Dependency-Court.pdf
3. Children in Poverty - California Poverty Measure, Kid Trends (2019) https://www.kidsdata.org/topic/2084/cpm-poverty/table#fmt=2592&loc=2,127,1657,331,1761,171,2168,345,357,324,369,362,360,2076,364,356,217,354,1663,339,2169,365,343,367,344,366,368,265,349,361,4,273,59,370,326,341,338,350,2145,359,363,340&tf=134 (Last accessed March 23, 2022)
4. Geography of Child Poverty in California, Public Policy Institute of California (2017), https://www.ppic.org/publication/geography-of-child-poverty-in-california/
5. “[F]actors that could account for the disproportionate number of Black children in foster care include pervasive poverty, inequitable education and employment opportunities, and hyper-surveillance of Black families” Why are Black children removed from home at high rate? LA County plans ‘blind removal’ pilot. Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-07-14/why-are-black-children-removed-from-homes-at-high-rate-l-a-county-plans-blind-removal-pilot; See also, https://witnessla.com/a-new-report-and-a-radio-series-point-to-deeply-troubling-issues-in-la-countys-foster-care-system/
6. In FY 2020-21, 24.1% of children in DCFS care identified as Black and 58.1% as Hispanic, DCFS Fact Sheets (supra, n1); BOS May 21, 2019 Motion recognizing overrepresentation of Black and Latino youth in foster care, “All of these disparities are compounded by unresolved trauma, intergenerational poverty, immigration, and other forms of oppression.” http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/135673.pdf
7. Cost of living in Los Angeles according to the consumer price index accounting for cost of food, shelter, health care, and transportation rose 7.4% from Feb. 2021 to Feb. 2022. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/consumerpriceindex_losangeles.htm (last accessed March 23, 2022).
8. Rebecca Hasdell, WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME: A CROSS-SYNTHESIS OF REVIEWS, Stanford Basic Income Lab (July 2020), available at https://basicincome.stanford.edu/uploads/Umbrella%20Review%20BI_final.pdf.
9. Mayors for a Guaranteed Income – map of pilot programs, https://www.mayorsforagi.org/; Katelyn Peters, Universal Basic Income (May 31, 2021), Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/basic-income.asp (last accessed March 20, 2022).
10. See, e.g., Stanford Basic Income Lab, What Is Basic Income, https://basicincome.stanford.edu/about/what-is-ubi/ (last accessed March 20, 2022).
11. Sigal Samuel, Guaranteed income is graduating from charity to public policy: American cities are finally taking the safety net seriously, Vox (June 3, 2021),https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2021/6/3/22463776/guaranteed-universal-basic-income-charity-policy.
12. M. Feely, et al., Creating Systems synergy Across The Social Welfare Policy Landscape, Institute for Research on Poverty, Sept. 2021, Vol. 37, No. 2.
13. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(a); See also, The ABC’s of Los Angeles Children’s Court, https://extraordinaryfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ABCs-of-Dependency-Court.pdf
14. Welf. & Inst. Code § 300(B); See also, The ABC’s of Los Angeles Children’s Court, https://extraordinaryfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/ABCs-of-Dependency-Court.pdf
16. K. Elli, Race and Poverty Bias in the Child Welfare System: Strategies for Child Welfare Practitioners, Am. Bar Assoc. Dec. 17, 2019. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/january---december-2019/race-and-poverty-bias-in-the-child-welfare-system---strategies-f/
17. M. Feely, et al., Creating Systems Synergy Across The Social Welfare Policy Landscape, Institute for Research on Poverty, Sept. 2021, Vol. 37, No. 2.
19. See, e.g., Kovski, et al., Association of State-Level Earned Income Tax Credits With Rates of Reported Child Maltreatment, 2004–2017, Child Maltreatment (January 2021).
20. DCFS Financial Assistance page for Caregivers, https://dcfs.lacounty.gov/caregivers/resource-family-financial-assistance/ (last visited March 30, 2022). Caregivers can receive additional funding if the child qualifies for a higher “level of care”, dual agency rates, intensive services, or infant supplements.
21. BOS budget recommendation includes $21 million “primarily for projected caseload growth and placement rate increases.” Bos FY 2021-22 Budget Recommendations, Vol 1, p. 8 https://ceo.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/2021-22-Recommended-Budget-Book-Volume-One-Final-Online-Version.pdf
23. SEED – Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, Preliminary Analysis of SEED’s First Year: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6039d612b17d055cac14070f/t/603ef1194c474b329f33c329/1614737690661/SEED_Preliminary+Analysis-SEEDs+First+Year_Final+Report_Individual+Pages+-2.pdf
24. SEED Employment - https://www.stocktondemonstration.org/employment; SEED wellbeing - https://www.stocktondemonstration.org/health-and-wellbeing
25. Breathe LA County GBI Program Homepage, https://ceo.lacounty.gov/pai/breathe/
26. CA DSS implemented a demonstration project to exempt guaranteed income program funds from CalWORKS and CalFRESH eligibility calculations, https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/guaranteed-income-exemption-requests (last accessed April 7, 2022)