The move by Marin County to spend $400,000 of taxpayer money in a Universal Basic Income (UBI) experiment received national criticism last week.
Devon Westhill writing in the Wall Street Journal called the plan to give 125 low-income women $1,000 a month a violation of the equal protection clause in the California Constitution.
The program is only available to women of color who have one child under 18 years of age. The recipients will get $1,000 for 24 months.
“No matter what one thinks of UBI as a policy matter,” Westhill wrote, “the use of public funds in the Marin scheme is legally dubious. The California Constitution’s equal-protection clause, like the federal one in the 14th Amendment, applies ‘strict scrutiny’—the highest possible level of judicial scrutiny—to racial classifications. California courts, unlike federal ones, also apply strict scrutiny to sex classifications. In Connerly v. State Personnel Board (2001), a California appeals court made that clear in invalidating both race- and sex-based affirmative-action programs.”
In contributing the money, Marin County staff said this in the Supervisor packet:
“Low-income families are brimming with initiative, resilience, and home-grown solutions to drive their own economic mobility. In fact, 75% of those living below the poverty line achieve upward mobility within four years—despite navigating a deficit-based system. Within five years, 50% of those that achieve upward mobility drop back below the poverty line, due to the removal of assistance from welfare programs. Low-income families in Marin County and the greater Bay Area are no exception to this economic occurrence. A 2018 survey by the Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that the median income in Marin County tops the entire country, classifying households that make $117,000 in Marin County as low-income. However, eligibility to access support from welfare programs continues to be determined by federal poverty levels of $25,750 for a household of four. To address this financial inequity, Marin Community Foundations Universal Basic Income Demonstration aims to invest directly in Marin County low-wage earning mothers of color, with children between the ages of 0-17. In this demonstration, 125 women, who are selected at random for participation from across the County, will receive $1,000 a month for 24 months. The assessment team at Marin Community Foundation will document the results, tracking the opportunities and challenges the participants have during the demonstration.
“The Marin Community Foundation has already conducted extensive research following the needs of low-wage mothers of color within Marin. Universal Basic Income has been proposed as a solution to garner multigenerational upward economic mobility and further community resiliency. Similar guaranteed income efforts are proving to be successful through the SEED project in Stockton, California, and the Magnolia Mother’s Trust program in Mississippi.”
West hill argued that “my mother was low-income, had three young children and faced racial discrimination. We lived in black communities where black men were stigmatized for consorting with white women, and that stigma flowed to those women and their biracial children.
“If my mother was somehow privileged over similarly situated black mothers, it could only have been by the slimmest possible margin. To exclude someone like her from a public-assistance program on account of her skin color is the very definition of racial injustice.”
When the county approved the expenditure, Sausalito resident Charlene Eldon said “This is a great start. Black people in Marin City and the county at large are owed reparations.”