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

A bill by Senator Dave Cortese establishing a statewide guaranteed income program for homeless students cleared its first policy committee on Wednesday. In a unanimous vote, the Senate Education Committee advanced SB 333, which would give homeless high school seniors $1,000 a month for five months to help them enroll in college or enter the workforce.

“When homelessness students graduate from high school, a crucial piece of their support system is suddenly removed. Let’s help these young people pursue their dreams – not end up back on the streets,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “The no-strings-attached guaranteed income model will empower these students to use the funds as they see fit. The data shows that guaranteed income programs work – people lift themselves out of poverty when given the tools to do so. Instead of graduating kids into homelessness, let’s graduate them into success.”

SB 333 unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee with bipartisan support on Wednesday in a 7-0 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate Human Services Committee.  

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.

“If it wasn’t for funding, I would be part of the youth struggling to find a roof over their head. Instead, I am in college pursuing my dream of becoming a detective,” said Najarrea Bell, a student at Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga.

Bell, who spoke in support of SB 333 at Wednesday’s hearing, is a recipient of funding through the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services. “SB 333 gives funding for other young people going through the same difficulties I went through,” she said. “Giving them financial support will allow them to accomplish the dreams they had as little kids.”  

School districts support unhoused students with funding from the McKinney-Vento Act, a key legislative support for students experiencing homelessness. However, the law only applies to currently enrolled students, meaning a student experiencing homelessness will only receive support up until they graduate from high school.

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 become subject to a phenomenon known as summer melt, where high school graduates are accepted into college and intend to enroll, but ultimately do not. In fact, 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 next five years.

SB 333 would establish the Success, Opportunity, & Academic Resilience (SOAR), a guaranteed income pilot program. The funding would be eligible to all 12th grade unhoused students who 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 Santa Clara County’s first-in-the-nation universal basic income program to serve transition-age foster youth.

In 2021, that Santa Clara County pilot program was scaled statewide under Senator Cortese’s SB 739. That legislation, known as the Universal Basic Income for Transition Age Foster Youth Act, was incorporated into the 2021-22 State Budget as a $35 million first-of-its-kind investment called the “California Guaranteed Income Pilot Program.”

In November 2022, the California Department of Social Services announced plans to begin awarding the first $25 million in grants to seven pilot projects promoting guaranteed income across the state. The awards consisted of monthly direct cash payments of up to $1,200 to at least 1,975 Californians, including transition age foster youth and pregnant women.

Co-authors of SB 333 include Senator Angelique Ashby, Senator Aisha Wahab, Assemblymember Matt Haney, Assemblymember Alex Lee, Assemblymember Evan Low, and Assemblymember Gail Pellerin.