Young California mayor sees value in paying poor to rise up
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A $500 monthly check for low-income residents, cash stipends for men most likely to commit violent crimes and $1,000 college scholarships for public high school graduates.
These are the bold initiatives 27-year-old Mayor Michael Tubbs is launching in Stockton, California, one of the state’s most financially strapped and crime-ridden cities. The Stanford-educated son of a mother who relied in part on public food assistance programs and an incarcerated father, Tubbs thinks that giving people even a small leg up can make a radical change.
“The majority of people are actually smart and rational,” Tubbs said Tuesday in an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club. “You trust folks; you give folks money, nine times out of 10 they’re not going to do any harm.”
All three programs are funded by private donations from benefactors such as the Spanos family, which owns the Los Angeles Chargers football team, the utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric and an organization called the Economic Security Project, co-chaired by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes.
It’s a way for Tubbs to experiment on programs with money the city doesn’t have. If the programs work, he will seek to convince taxpayers and other governments, including the state, to adopt them, albeit with expected tax increases.
Stockton’s basic income program, expected to launch early next year with a pilot of about 100 people, would be the first in the United States. It is likely to be closely watched both by advocates and skeptics, who suggest it’s a worse version of welfare.
Residents say they’d spend the $500 on everything from rent, to child care, to food or even luxuries like a new television, Tubbs said. He hopes to chip away at assumptions that poorer residents might use the money on drugs and wants to show most are more concerned about affording necessities.
Stockton’s median income is $46,000 a year, well below the state’s, according to Census data.
Tubbs concedes such a program could be difficult to expand.
“Going forward I don’t think one city in itself can do it longer than a pilot to show proof of concept,” he said.
The college scholarship program will similarly start next year, offering $1,000 annual scholarships to graduates of Stockton’s largest public school district who have a GPA above 2.0 and have applied for at least two other scholarships or grants. Less than 20 percent of the city’s residents have a bachelor’s degree, according to the most recent Census data.
He’s also partnered with Advance Peace, a program started in nearby Richmond, California, that’s aimed at rehabilitating the men who most regularly engage in gun violence. Members of the program go through a six month program that includes daily check-ins with a case manager, getting a job and obtaining a driver’s license.
If they meet those goals, participants are given a monthly stipend of up to $1,000.
Critics have said it’s nothing more than a “cash from criminals” program. But Tubbs said rehabilitating even a few men can make a major difference.
“People say all the time everyone’s not is going to change — well, duh,” Tubbs said.
It was Stockton’s heavy crime rate that Tubbs says in part drove him to run for office; his cousin was murdered in 2010. For most of his life, Tubbs focused on getting out of Stockton.
After his cousin’s murder, though, he realized the success he was having at Stanford, with internships at the White House and Google, didn’t mean much if he couldn’t use it to help his community.
“I internalized a lot of negatives about Stockton and believed that finding success was leaving Stockton,” he said. “It wasn’t until college that I learned more about policy and structure and saw examples of communities that were reinventing themselves.
“I began to think maybe I can define success by going back.”