$500 Monthly Stipend Proposed for Low-Income Cal State Students

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Supporters of universal basic income programs say they give lower-income people the flexibility to meet their immediate needs. For students, the goal would be to help them stay in school. Photo Credit: Rimm art / Adobe Stock

A bill will soon be introduced in the California Legislature that would grant low-income students at five California State University campuses a stipend of $500 a month for basic living expenses. The idea is to provide a universal basic income, so more students can afford to stay in school.

State Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, said the pilot program would serve about 14,000 students, or about 11% of the campus population, “because that’s roughly the percentage of students who are essentially in abject poverty. They’re either homeless or severely at risk for being homeless.”

To qualify, the student would have to have a household income below $20,000. The program would cost the state an estimated $84 million a year. Opponents of universal basic income criticize it as a government handout that could be squandered. However, Cortese said data from two such programs, launched in Stockton and Santa Clara County, do not support that concern.

Many campuses in the state already provide housing referrals, food banks and other resources to students in need, but they vary widely. Cortese said if the bill passes and the universal basic income program ends up working successfully to reduce poverty and dropout rates in the Cal State system, it could be expanded.

“If it is effective, you’d want to be doing it on all campuses,” he said, “and probably extend it to community colleges as well.”

The specific schools that would take part in the three-year pilot have not been announced. The legislative deadline to file bills is a week from Friday.

Support for this reporting is provided by Lumina Foundation.