Senate Passes Senator Cortese’s Bill Giving Guaranteed Income to Homeless High School Seniors

The State Senate advanced legislation by Senator Dave Cortese on Monday establishing a statewide guaranteed income program for homeless students. SB 333 would give unhoused students finishing high school $1,000 a month for five months to help them enroll in college or enter the workforce.

“I applaud my Senate colleagues for protecting California’s most vulnerable students during a crucial time. High schools offer homeless students a support network that can include free counseling, school supplies, transportation and meals. But when these students exit high school, all that school support goes away. It’s the worst time to rip away a young person’s support system,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “Why graduate up to 15,000 kids into life on the streets? Let’s break the cycle of poverty with guaranteed income for those few crucial months when young people have the energy, optimism and passion to get into a good college or career.”

SB 333 now advances to policy committees in the State Assembly.

Approximately 270,000 students within California’s K-12 school system are experiencing homelessness, according to a 2020 report by UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools. That number has grown by nearly half over the past decade. About 15,000 of these unhoused students are in the 12th grade.

School districts support unhoused students with funding from the federal McKinney-Vento Act. However, the law only applies to currently enrolled students. Moreover, while federal and state law provide extensive financial aid to homeless youth attending higher education, the aid does not become available until the student enters college in the fall. As a result, many young people experience a phenomenon known as summer melt, where the student gets into college, but then their chance of actually making it into the classroom melts away. A recent survey found that more than 90 percent of unhoused youth respondents described a career goal that required education beyond high school, but only 16 percent believed they would be able to attend or graduate college within the succeeding five years.

SB 333 would establish a guaranteed income pilot program known as the Success, Opportunity, & Academic Resilience (SOAR). The funding would be eligible to all unhoused students who have finished high school and lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Direct cash payments from SB 333 would be awarded from April to August 2025.

Senator Cortese is dedicated to giving vulnerable populations the tools to improve their lives through guaranteed income. In 2020, Senator Cortese, then a Santa Clara County Supervisor, helped create a universal basic income program to serve transition-age foster youth in Santa Clara County. In 2021, that pilot program was scaled statewide under Senator Cortese’s SB 739.

In 2022, SJSU Professor Scott Myers-Lipton released the Silicon Valley Pain Index, which inspired legislation (SB 1341) that was a former iteration of SB 333, proposing direct cash payments to unhoused students finishing high school. Also last year, Senator Cortese pushed for a local version of the program in Santa Clara County. That local program is expected to launch in 2024.