By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Even those who dedicate their time to assisting others need help. Lisa Baker calls the local guaranteed income program a blessing.
Even those who dedicate their time to assisting others need help. Lisa Baker calls the local guaranteed income program a blessing.

Community advocate Lisa Baker has had her share of ups and downs, but continues to work to not only improve her own situation, but that of others. 

Baker is a participant in the United Way California Capital Region’s Guaranteed Basic Income Program and is sharing how having extra money every month has been a Godsend in hard times. She first learned of the program when a local Financial Empowerment Center did a presentation during a financial literacy class she was taking at the Hacker Lab.

“I ended up working with an advisor that was helping me on my financial profiles. She sent me the link and I sent it to a couple of people and I just happened to get picked,” Baker said. 

She admits to initially being hesitant to apply, uncertain about the legitimacy of the link, but facing mounting money troubles, she decided to trust it. After being selected to participate in the first cohort, Baker started receiving $300 a month to spend as she chose.

United Way launched its Direct Investment Program in July 2021 as part of a nationwide trend offering guaranteed income, particularly for historically undervalued and underinvested communities. Funding for the program came from a portion of a $10 million gift from renowned philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. United Way works with a third-party academic institution to measure outcomes. The program aims to invest in 1,000 families by 2025.

The United Way recently announced its second round of funding. The deadline to apply is April 14.

“This program helps alleviate the daily financial stress many local families face,” said local President and CEO Dr. Dawnte Early. “We trust that participants best know how to spend their money to meet their family’s needs. Participants in our first cohort reported that guaranteed income each month helped to decrease income volatility, stay housed, pay for childcare, buy food and increase savings.”

The City of Sacramento allocated $750,000 in funding from its American Rescue Plan dollars to expand United Way California Capital Region’s guaranteed basic income program in 2022. The move will provide 80 new familes with $500 every month for one year. There were 100 people in the first group, including Baker. 

Eighty-six percent of current participants in the United Way’s Direct Investment Program

say they can’t pay cash or cash equivalent for an unexpected $400 expense. Seventy-two percent of participants are women and people of color, and 1 out of 3 participants is working multiple jobs. The average participant would need two and a half full-time minimum-wage jobs to meet the Real Cost Measure for a household size of four, according to United Ways of California.

“We know that other basic income programs have been very successful in improving the financial stability of households currently living on economic margins,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. “Putting dollars directly in the hands of local residents empowers them.”

Having previously taken out a small business loan, Baker began using the extra monthly funds to pay back the borrowed money. 

“It actually came as a blessing,” she said. “I wasn’t planning on losing my income.”

Baker had recently lost money she was getting as a foster parent and says a person she was working for as a home health care provider refused to sign off on timecards that prevented her from getting paid.

“The state still owes me money that I cannot get back,” she said. “I don’t know how to fight them in order to get my money back, so my financial problems just started to compound.”

Baker started driving for DoorDash and looking for regular work, but her choice to remain unvaccinated against the COVID-19 virus has limited her efforts.

“I’m not vaccinated and don’t plan on being vaccinated and therefore a majority of the jobs that are hiring for all these high wages require vaccinations,” she said.

An extra $300 a month has helped Baker free up money to cover necessities.

“I was able to take care of my car, get it fixed, get my registration on it and have reliable transportation. Some of the things I’ve been able to pay off, so that way I can get my credit up, like I was wanting to anyway. It’s like winning the lottery almost,” she said.

The guaranteed income also allowed Baker to start an entertainment-related company, focused on promoting and marketing independent artists. Baker has also continued her community volunteer work with the Blessed Child Association in the Meadowview area. The child of a Vietnam War veteran, who has experienced homelessness, Baker has helped local Black veterans get off the streets and connect them to benefits they didn’t know they were entitled to. During the pandemic, she

battled red tape in efforts to secure rental and utility assistance for herself and others. A lot of promised help, Baker says, is hard to access or just non-existent and many local leaders aren’t helping because they simply don’t get it.

“They’ve never been homeless and don’t have to worry about their utility bills or rent. They’re not worried about gas prices and stuff like that. These are people that are in a position of power that make decisions for us, that are not really listening to the people unless it’s somebody they know,” she said. “They say they’ll fix the crisis for me, but what about the other 50 people behind me that don’t have the voice or don’t have the means to go and speak up?”

While her participation ends in September, Baker is happy to see the guaranteed basic income program continue to help ease the woes of everyday people, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck or don’t have one at all. 

“They have funding for us, but if we don’t use it, it gets lost,” Baker said.

For more on eligibility, or to apply, visit or call (916) 368-3013. The online application is open until April 14 at 11:59 p.m. Qualifying households will be selected randomly and confirmed by the end of May. First payments are expected to begin in July.