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The Thin Line

By Max Kinser

Published September 28, 2018

The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, better known as SEED, is an experiment heading to our city created by the Economic Security Project and backed by Mayor Tubbs. The plan is to provide 100 residents with an extra 500 free to spend dollars a month for a year and a half. The goal seems to be disproving the old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality and show how fine the line is between being able to feed your family this month or not. The project’s aims are undoubtedly fundamentally moral. I mean, its hard to argue that giving extra money to needy families is a bad thing. It’s easy to imagine the help that knowing there’s $500 dollars just sitting there at the beginning of the month, making paying that bill easier, or buying groceries easier, or even adding a little more to your kid’s college fund easier. Not only on your wallet, but your mental health too.

But what if the line is thicker for some than others?

What if the line is so large that it seems almost impossible to see the other side of it?

Yes, for some, $500 dollars can make a very real impact on your budget, but what if the problem isn’t simply being short a few hundred dollars each month, but is being stuck in a system that is constantly working against you with little to no help or support.

The SEED program will be providing $500 each month to these 100 families, but that is ALL they will be providing. No attempts to educate or insure that positive steps are being made to secure a real future financial stability. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is an attempt to prove that simply having this guaranteed income is enough to change lives and I’m sure, for some, it will. But the whole situation reminds me of our stereotypes about homeless people. Now we all should know that not every homeless person is homeless for the same reason. Though I’m sure everyone of us knows at least someone who justifies ignoring them because they’re quote unquote “lazy drug addicts” or an equally unflattering sentiment.

My point is that it doesn’t matter.

Whether they are drug addicts or just a poor soul on hard times, the fact of it is that even if I give them some money or some food right now, I know that they will still be there tomorrow, not due to laziness, but due to the fact that it’s just too steep of a climb sometimes, and the helping hands seem like they are just a little bit too far apart.

Stockton is a city less than a decade off of the most miserable cities in America list by Forbes, on which we were reigning champs for multiple years. Of late we are moving in the right direction, a baby step at a time, but just drive past any of the many homeless camps around the city and you’ll find that the line is not quite as thin as we thought.

My name is Max Kinser, and in order to better understand public opinion on the SEED program and its effects on Stockton as a whole, I went into the field and asked my good friend Andrew Squires a few questions:

Max: so why don’t we start off with uh why don’t you uh describe yourself or at least you and your family

Squires: Ok um my name is indeed Andrew squires I am a 26-year-old man born and raised in Stockton California uh my family has been here uh my whole life

Max: So uh I would describe you guys as a middle class family is that fair?

Squires: Definitely yeah

Max: Um ok so middle class in Stockton is is still I wouldn’t say….obviously it required your dad to work 24/7 or pretty much the entire time

Squires: Definitely and it was more I know that they would have liked to have moved to the bay area just because of the commute that he has to do and has been doing for 30 years um but they decided to stay in Stockton because of family and just kind of

Max: Your roots are here

Squires: The upbringing yeah

Max: cool so not that you guys were ever I would say in poverty in anyway shape or form but um do you think your upbringing or the way that your parents worked into things do you think anything would change if you guys had an extra $500 a month

Squires: I mean its hard to say just based on just how my parents are as people very um

Max: They would have probably worked anyway

Squires: They would have worked either way

Max: Like to keep busy

Squires: Um and that you know if there had been an extra 500$ coming in each month that would have just gone straight to bills or savings or something there wouldn’t have been any sort of spending money I don’t think um

Max: Just you know college funds and stuff like that

Squires: Yeah just kinda putting money away preparing for college you know my brother and sister and I um so yeah I think that would have mainly just gone straight into savings

Max: And uh ok, yeah cool so speaking I mentioned college fund earlier you have been a student at both at UOP and Delta

Squires: Yeah

Max: Um so student in Stockton been in Stockton for a long time um going back to the middle class family your parents do well but obviously not well enough that they can just throw not throw but student tuition especially at UOP can be quite hefty

Squires: Right yeah Pacific’s tuition is it's up there I mean it’s a private university so same vein as Santa Clara or something like that in California so yeah  um but the tuition just like any school has gone up dramatically each year and I mean my parents have helped um here and there they kinda took out some of their own Stafford loans or whatever those are called but uh majority was govt aid that I took out for myself and am in the process of paying that back which is a whole lot of fun

Max: Oh yeah well that leads to my next question um instead of $500 to your whole family if you as an adult now especially as a student paying these loans and all that how would having $500 a month affect your monthly routine essentially

Squires: Id like to say that it wouldn’t affect it all that much uh you know I would hope that I would try to save it and use that as the loan payments and I think that I would for the most part uh I don’t think my payments aren’t $500 a month but still if I were to save that then that would last a few years or something at least 2 years worth of payments if I were to save all that money would kind of just cover payments a few years and that alone would be a huge help

Max: I mean like not necessarily on just what would you spend it on knowing that having 500$ in your pocket knew it was gonna be there what would that do for you like stress wise

Squires: I was gonna say stress wise I mean it would be a big relief knowing that you have that $500 or however much they're going to do or um just knowing that you have a secured amount of money coming in each month you kind of maybe don’t stress as much about certain things uh that you normally would but you know $500 for most people is only so much you could do with that $500 each month you know rent or just phone bills or whatever it comes down to that stuff adds up quick and especially rent you know so $500 towards rent would be

Max: In Stockton that can be anywhere from a half to a third of your rent depending on where you're living yeah absolutely yeah I actually have a few families that pay $400 a month but uh its not the most ideal living situation though also

Squires: No

Max: Um I guess that kind of wraps up into the last question that we’ll do today what do you think this program or what effect do you think this program will have on Stockton not necessarily if it goes any farther than this what do you think this one year of giving $500 will do or what are your expectations for it

Squires: Um I don’t think it’s gonna have a huge impact on the city itself obviously these families are going to be thankful for that and I'm sure it will help those families out but the community as a whole I don’t really see this program having an effect on the city because these people are just going to be using that money for bills or whatever it is they need to spend it on

Max: And once again there's no requirement on what you can spend the money on either so its $500 just there

Squires: Just put in your bank account

Max: Not even its almost like I mean it is putting it in your bank account but its almost the equivalent of just slipping you $500 in cash every month

Squires: Yeah I really don’t think its gonna have any sort of impact good or bad on the city obviously if they did a thousand families which at that point for a city like Stockton who has been through bankruptcy in recent years and everything that’s not really um feasible I think but even just the hundred families that they're giving it to I still feel like even if they multiplied by a little bit I still don’t feel like it would really change anything in the community because these families would just be using it for their own payments

And with that I wrapped up my interview with Mr. Squires, a man with roots deeply tied to Stockton, his family having seen their fair share of its ups and downs, and his gave me a few things to think about.

Is $500 enough?

Is 100 families enough?

What can be done to better insure positive growth in our community?

And what exactly will determine whether this project is a success?

As a born and raised Stocktonian, I wait with cautious optimism. Hopeful for the light at the end of the tunnel and reason to take pride in my home, yet fearful due to the still too fresh scars of failures and false promises.

Whether there are better days in store or not, us Stocktonians will keep moving forward just as we always have.

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