Since last year, Los Angeles County and a host of cities and counties across the country have offered no-strings-attached monthly income to low-income residents during the pandemic. But to date, few former foster youth in this high-cost region are receiving the $1,000-a-month payment that became available last year.
Now, under a proposal approved by L.A. County supervisors this week, 200 slots in the program known as Breathe will be reserved for young adults raised under the supervision of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services.
Former foster youth who qualify for the program will receive $1,000 each month for two years, with the goal of achieving “financial stability, the alleviation of stress, the completion of deferred schooling, and participation in one’s community,” according to a motion introduced by Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
Florencia Valenzuela, an organizer with the nonprofit advocacy group California Youth Connection, called the board’s decision “a step in the right direction.” Valenzuela, who grew up in L.A. County’s foster care system, said the struggle to find safe and stable housing derails the lives of too many of her peers.
As a young adult, “you’re supposed to be discovering yourself, making friends and following your dreams,” the 24-year-old said in an interview. “But all of that is taken away from us because we’re in survival mode after we leave the system.”
In the hopes of alleviating such struggles, the county will invest $4.8 million to expand its Breathe program, which since its inception has been offered to some low-income residents negatively impacted by COVID-19. The anti-poverty pilot — launched in March 2022 to provide three years of financial support for 1,000 people — is named for its goal: giving residents a chance to “breathe easier knowing they are more financially secure.” Recipients of the monthly payments can spend the money as they see fit.
The county has received $4.3 million from seven foundations for its Breathe project, and philanthropic funds are also being sought to finance the latest expansion. Program participants’ outcomes are being tracked by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.
The average age of Breathe participants has been 40, according to the demographic data compiled so far. That moved county officials to reserve the 200 slots for young people leaving the state’s largest child welfare system. Roughly 1,600 young adults age out of foster care each year in Los Angeles County. Severed from family support and struggling with the aftermath of traumatic experiences, all too often they experience homelessness and poverty.
“We want to ensure we are able to help these youth and also contribute to the data on whether this type of a program can change that trajectory,” Carrie Miller, director of the county’s Poverty Alleviation Initiative said in an email.
Breathe is not the only guaranteed income project aimed at young adults in L.A. County. Last year, the county’s Department of Public Social Services launched a guaranteed income program for 18-to 24-year olds who qualify for welfare benefits and receive employment-related services, some of whom may be foster youth. Three hundred young adults are now receiving a monthly $1,000 check as well as financial literacy classes under that program.
Guaranteed income projects aimed at helping young people aging out of foster care have grown in recent years, in response to the pervasive issue of homelessness among this population. A 2020 study of young adults in California found that two years after leaving the state’s foster care system at age 21, roughly 25% reported experiencing at least one night of homelessness. Roughly 30% said they had couch-surfed or stayed with friends at least once because they didn’t have stable housing.
Santa Clara County was the first local government in the nation to extend guaranteed income support to former foster youth. The Northern California county launched its $1,000-a-month program in June 2020.
Since then, similar programs have been launched by Alameda County and the city of South San Francisco. Former foster youth also receive 18 months of support through a $25 million program funded by the California Department of Social Services. Four guaranteed income projects that span the state are overseen by the nonprofit iFoster and provide between $600 and $1,200 per month.
Valenzuela said access to guaranteed income could allow more foster youth to finish educational degrees, find better jobs and avoid having to rack up crippling debt to pay for expenses.
“Young people are more than capable of being self-sufficient,” she said. “They just need the proper resources and the time to find their footing.”
The Breathe program receives funding from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation, who are also contributors to Fostering Media Connections, The Imprint’s parent nonprofit company.