California

California pioneers trust fund for children who have lost a parent to COVID

Children who lost a parent to the COVID pandemic could be eligible for financial assistance through a $100 million fund set up in California – the first state in the country to commit to a trust fund scheme.

The money will be distributed to low-income families, and deposited into an interest-accruing account that can be accessed when the child turns 18.

The sums have not yet been decided, but one early proposal would give younger children $4,000 and older teenagers $8,000 – meaning there would be enough to provide funding for around 16,000 young people.

Martin Basulto, a 44-year-old truck driver (left), believed he caught the virus while working, and his wife Rosa Garcia Cortez, 46 (center), caught COVID while caring for him. The couple died within weeks of each other in January 2021. Their son Martin, now 27, moved back home from Fresno to look after the family and care for his sister Miranda, now 17 (above right), and his brother Angel (below ) on the right). Now the orphan family can take advantage of California’s new scheme

Nancy Skinner, a Democrat state senator from Berkeley and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee championed the scheme, saying it was designed to address the state’s massive inequality.

“The great irony of California in particular, but the nation as a whole, is that we have such wealth, but it’s so concentrated,” she said. ‘What we can do that can address that income inequality is essential to do.’

California used some of its record-setting budget surplus to finance the program, and Skinner said that the California legislature will monitor the scheme closely, and assess whether it is effective.

The national treasurer will manage the money on interest-bearing accounts.

Once the recipients reach adulthood, they can spend the money however they want, but advocates hope they’ll use it for things like a down payment on a house, college tuition or a car.

The details of the scheme, which were adopted last month as part of the budget, will be finalized in the coming months.

Eligibility will likely be tied to enrollment in Medi-Cal, the state health insurance system for low-income Californians.

Among those thought to qualify are the three Basulto brothers, who lost both their parents to COVID in January 2021.

Martin Basulto, a 44-year-old truck driver, believed he caught the virus while working, and his wife Rosa Garcia Cortez, 46, caught COVID while caring for him. The couple died within weeks of each other.

Their son Martin, now 27, moved back home from Fresno to take care of the family and take care of his sister Miranda, now 17.

‘In the beginning I didn’t know anything about school. I was so angry,’ she recounted Cal Matters. ‘We’re all going to die someday, so what’s the point of trying in life?’

She said her attitude changed when someone asked her if she wanted to die without living to her full potential.

‘That hit me because I know my parents wanted to do a lot of things in their lives that they couldn’t,’ she said.

‘So, I want to live my life to the fullest.’

Miranda is now on the honor roll and looking forward to college, just as her father had wished for her.

Martin told the website that the money would be important to his family.

“The smallest amount can go a long way,” he said.

‘I want her to be prepared for when she goes to college and I will help in any way I can so any other help available would be greatly appreciated.’

Martin Basulto Sr. and his wife Rosa died within weeks of each other. Now her three children can benefit from California's pioneering scheme

Martin Basulto Sr. and his wife Rosa died within weeks of each other. Now her three children can benefit from California's pioneering scheme

Martin Basulto Sr. and his wife Rosa died within weeks of each other. Now her three children can benefit from California’s pioneering scheme

The activist group COVID Survivors for Change posted a photo of Miranda and Martin Basulto, saying: ‘We applaud California for creating a trust fund to help the 32,000 children who have lost a parent or primary caregiver to COVID-19 in the state.’

Another child who could benefit is Emilia Guerra, now two, whose father Rigo Guerra died of COVID on Christmas Eve in 2020.

Laura Guerra and her daughter Emilia, 2, play at their home in Riverside, California on July 11.

Laura Guerra and her daughter Emilia, 2, play at their home in Riverside, California on July 11.

Laura Guerra and her daughter Emilia, 2, play at their home in Riverside, California on July 11.

The couple is reflected on her husband US Marine Lance Cpl. Rodrigo 'Rigo' Guerra's uniform, framed at her home. He died on December 24, 2020 of COVID

The couple is reflected on her husband US Marine Lance Cpl. Rodrigo 'Rigo' Guerra's uniform, framed at her home. He died on December 24, 2020 of COVID

The couple is reflected on her husband US Marine Lance Cpl. Rodrigo ‘Rigo’ Guerra’s uniform, framed at her home. He died on December 24, 2020 of COVID

Emilia’s mother, Laura, has advocated for the trust funds as a member of COVID Survivors for Change.

“As a mom, this gives me back a little bit of that security,” Guerra said.

‘I don’t want her to remain a victim of this virus forever.’

Guerra said she can’t predict how her daughter would use the money once she’s old enough to spend it, but hopes she puts it toward something useful.

‘I’m doing what I can to steer her in the right direction and make her a good person, right?’ she said.

Hillary Porter, an activist who campaigned for the trust fund, told Cal Matters she was reassured by the presence of the funding, even if her daughter, MacLemore, does not qualify.

Her husband, Lloyd, with whom she ran a bakery in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of New York City, died of COVID in May 2020 — a month before the family was set to move back to California, where they had met and have lived before crossing the country.

Hillary Porter is seen with her husband Lloyd and their daughter, MacLemore. He died in May 2020, shortly before they packed up to return to California - where Hillary and MacLemore now live

Hillary Porter is seen with her husband Lloyd and their daughter, MacLemore. He died in May 2020, shortly before they packed up to return to California - where Hillary and MacLemore now live

Hillary Porter is seen with her husband Lloyd and their daughter, MacLemore. He died in May 2020, shortly before they packed up to return to California – where Hillary and MacLemore now live

MacLemore Porter is seen kissing her father, who died shortly before they moved back to California from Brooklyn

MacLemore Porter is seen kissing her father, who died shortly before they moved back to California from Brooklyn

MacLemore Porter is seen kissing her father, who died shortly before they moved back to California from Brooklyn

‘He really fought the good fight. He came back a little bit,’ Hillary recounted Cal Matters. ‘I was in the process of planning rehabilitation for him and suddenly he was gone.

‘Because my husband died in May 2020, we couldn’t have a funeral, we couldn’t get together with friends or family. It was very much like we were in a bubble.

‘That adds another layer of trauma or grief.’

She said she hopes the trust fund will help young people with mental health support as well as college.

“The kids, when they grow up, can now dream a little bigger,” she said.

‘It can change the trajectory of their goals at 18.’

The first US savings bonds were introduced in the 1930s to raise money for the government and give ordinary Americans an opportunity to invest.

These bonds were nicknamed ‘baby bonds’, because parents often bought them for their children.

These modern baby bonds are different in that, instead of being bought by parents, the government gives the money for free to children from low-income families.

Advocates have floated the idea as a way to help close the racial wealth gap between white and minority families, who were largely excluded from federal wealth-building programs during the Great Depression.

Hillary Clinton briefly included a baby bond proposal in her 2008 presidential campaign platform, and Sen. Cory Booker introduced a national baby bond bill in Congress that has yet to pass.

The Washington DC City Council passed a baby bond program in 2021, which commits to giving low-income children $500 plus another $1,000 each year their parents stay below a certain income level.

Last year, Connecticut was the first state to approve a statewide baby bond program — though it’s not yet funded.

California’s is the first to care for young people directly affected by COVID-19.

“Income and wealth are different things,” said Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, who is now an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom and founder of the advocacy group, End Poverty in California.

‘People should have the means to pay their bills today – but the next generation shouldn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.’

The group hopes California’s baby bond program is just a first step.

The goal is for the state to eventually provide trust funds to every child in the state born into a low-income family.

‘The goal has always been: ‘How do we help low-income children prepare for their future?’ said Shimica Gaskins, president and CEO of Grace.

‘We had really relied on educational paths, but also know that cash and cash assistance and opportunity are equally important.’

On social media, many praised the program as a good use of the budget surplus.

Dr. Ian Weissman, a radiologist at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, tweeted: ‘Well done California!’

One man tweeted: ‘California proves how easy it is to have fantastic quality of life and great governance when Republicans are completely removed from the picture.

‘Contrast with Texas or Florida, where electricity doesn’t work and drivers fight Mickey Mouse because they think math is ‘woke’.’

Still others were less certain.

“No wonder why the tax payers are fleeing California and what will they do when the revenue is no longer there to cover California’s bills,” one man said.

Another commented: ‘Ridiculous idea to just hand out money. If it’s not used for teaching, it’s a stupid idea.’

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