Palm Springs approves study of guaranteed income plan for trans residents to address widespread disparities

Nonprofit groups mull pilot programme to combat disproportionate rates of poverty and health issues among transgender and nonbinary residents

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The city council in Palm Springs, California unanimously approved the allocation of $200,000 to two nonprofit organisations to study a pilot plan for a universal basic income programme to support transgender and nonbinary residents, the first programme of its kind amid a national wave of legislation aimed at LGBT+ people.

The allocation approved on 24 March was requested by mental health and medical services nonprofits DAP Health and Queer Works, which will design the program, with input from the national Mayors for a Guaranteed Income project, a network of US mayors advocating for guaranteed income plans.

Like other guaranteed income proposals, the initiative – if launched – would provide direct cash payments in an attempt to give marginalised groups a financial life preserve and help reduce wide disparities in healthcare, housing and incomes impacting transgender people.

A pilot version of the programme would provide monthly payments between $600 and $900 to 20 people in Palm Springs, and would enroll another 20 transgender and nonbinary residents who would serve as a control group allowing the organisations to study the degree to which payments and services are most supportive.

“Helping people in need to better their life circumstances by directly providing them with income is an approach that’s showing great promise,” said DAP Health CEO David Brinkman said in a statement. “Our goal is to develop a model that impacts the greatest number of individuals possible. We hope our pilot will help confirm that guaranteed income is a cost-effective way to create positive outcomes.”

Transgender Americans are twice as likely as other adults to be unemployed, and unemployed transgender people make roughly 32 per cent less than their counterparts, despite similar educations.

Twenty-nine per cent of transgender people live in poverty, compared to 16 per cent of cisgender Americans, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Transgender people also face greater health disparities than cisgender Americans and are more likely to face stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings, leading to postponing care or being denied healthcare entirely, according to the American Medical Student Association, and are four times as likely to experience a mental health condition.

A 2021 report from LGBT+ suicide prevention and crisis intervention group The Trevor Project found that LGBT+ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider, plan or attempt suicide than their peers.

“This is a chance to help individuals receive money … to subsidize the gap in income that the trans and nonbinary community faces due to having some of the highest levels of unemployment in this country,” Queer Works CEO Jacob Rostovsky, who is transgender, said at last week’s city council meeting.

The city’s allocation would also allow the organisations to apply for a share of a $35m fund from the state providing grants to guaranteed income plans around California.

The groups may also turn to the city for additional matching funds, though some city officials appear reluctant to commit to broader funding efforts just yet.

Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, the first openly transgender mayor in the state, expressed some reservations about the plan while stressing that the need for financial assistance is “absolutely real.” There are over 400,000 people living below the poverty line in Riverside County, she said.

“My serious concern is the ability of these guaranteed income programs to scale up to the magnitude of the issues that are before us,” Mayor Middleton said.

“Such a program to help people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community is unbelievably part of the values of Palm Springs, hands down,” councilman Dennis Woods said. “But we have so many priorities going that I just am not sure we can commit to developing a guaranteed income program long term.”

Mayor Middleton said that the state, not municipalities, should be addressing economic inequality, antipoverty measures and related issues.

“For every individual that we are addressing through these programs, a dozen more are not getting aid through these programmes. and that is a very serious concern,” she said.

The proposal comes as Republican legislators across the US file dozens of bills criminalising transgender healthcare, banning transgender athletes from sports and censoring classroom instruction against issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, among other targets.

The Human Rights Campaign has tracked more than 300 piece of legislation considered harmful to LGBT+ people, with more than 130 of those bills targeting transgender people.

This year’s unprecedented legislative action against transgender people already outpaces the number of measures filed in 2021, and has nearly doubled within just two years. Legislation targeting transgender people has surged from 18 bills in 2018 to more than 150 in 2022.

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