Ladders Out of Poverty

The potential for unrestricted cash transfers in the Bay Area

SPUR Report January 26, 2021

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of households in the Bay Area already struggled to pay their bills each month. For many who have lost their jobs or seen their hours reduced, particularly Black and Latinx people, the pandemic has only worsened an already existential problem: They cannot afford to live in the region they call home. 

In order to ensure that all people are able to thrive here, the Bay Area should look to the promise of unrestricted cash transfers. These programs give individuals or households money with no specific requirements on how it is spent. Traditional social welfare programs don’t help people fix a broken car, pay an electric bill or buy clothes for a job interview. Unrestricted cash transfers can fill these gaps. Cash programs have had profound effects on recipients, helping lift people out of poverty and improving outcomes for whole families. SPUR looks at the successes of past and current programs and offers five possible options for the Bay Area to consider.


One in a series of publications that lay the groundwork for the SPUR Regional Strategy.

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