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Luskin School of Public Affairs hosts LA County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell

LA County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, who represents District 2, is pictured at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. She discussed approaches to addressing economic inequalities.
(Dylan Du/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Christopher Buchanan

May 4, 2023 11:34 p.m.

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a conversation Wednesday with Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell to discuss poverty alleviation and social welfare programs to combat economic inequality.

Mitchell, who represents District 2, has served in the position since 2020. She served in the California State Senate and Assembly prior to her election to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

The event featured a speech by Mitchell and a conversational interview and Q&A session moderated by Judith Perrigo, a UCLA assistant professor of social welfare.

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of the social welfare department, introduced Mitchell and said the event organizers planned to hear her speak on the importance of pressing economic inequalities and solutions to poverty in LA.

“There is perhaps no greater issue that we need to face right now in Los Angeles and globally than poverty and related economic inequality,” Abrams said.

She added that the Luskin School of Public Affairs has launched research into solutions, including the potential for a universal basic income, which Mitchell has spearheaded at the county level.

Mitchell created the Breathe program to research the benefits of universal basic income on impoverished families by studying how funding affects the well-being of recipients of the guaranteed income pilot program. The program began in March 2022 and will allocate a monthly $1,000 stipend for the next three years to a group of 1,000 randomly selected individuals in LA, she said. To qualify, participants had to be 18 or older and had to have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The county is also working alongside the University of Pennsylvania to study how the funding affects the financial health of universal basic income recipients. Mitchell added that the stipends have begun being distributed, providing disadvantaged families the opportunity to afford basic necessities.

Mitchell said her office was committed to creating a sustainable solution to economic insecurity on a national level. She added that she seeks to modify racialized social policy related to child care, decriminalize poverty-related activity, and further assist those recently disqualified from welfare programs because of stringent income thresholds. Ultimately, she said she wanted to reimagine the social safety net for individuals experiencing poverty.

“The era of invasive and patronizing social welfare in LA County is over,” Mitchell said. “Research has shown us that things like work requirements and possible barriers to eligibility do nothing to truly address poverty and just continued to criminalize poverty.”

Mitchell said during the Q&A session that she wants to broaden the qualifying factors for welfare recipients and other social services, such as the Breathe program. She added that while the program primarily focused on foster youth, it would translate well to college-aged students who are also allowed to apply.

Mitchell said universal basic income could serve as an extension to existing social programs, like Medicare and Social Security.

“Those were, in their time, cutting-edge, innovative concepts around income security,” she said. “When I think about those game-changing, life-saving policy initiatives that I’m sure had a very rough start also, I believe we can get there.”

Several members of the UCLA community also attended the event. Lana Zimmerman, a graduate student in public policy, said many graduate student workers struggling with wages, including herself, rely on social programs – like the electronic benefit transfer system – to afford the cost of living in LA.

“As graduate student workers, we are not paid very much,” Zimmerman said. “Something that would guarantee a living wage to live in LA would be very helpful if I was eligible for the program.”

Zimmerman added that she would like to see more government policies catered toward rental assistance and supporting basic necessities for students. She also said she feels Mitchell’s advocacy for social welfare programming is a positive trend for policymakers in alleviating and ending poverty in the long term.

In an interview, Mitchell said while she has focused primarily on foster youth in her outreach, college students fall within the scope of her program.

“I understand what the level of houselessness and hunger as a college student (is), even on this campus,” she said. “Nothing (is) specifically catered, but certainly, we have not excluded them from the financial support program.”

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Christopher Buchanan
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