The California Way: Breaking Down Silos Between Cash and Wealth

By Shimica Gaskins and Devon Gray | May 15, 2024

Baby Bonds light up the room at the February 2024 event, Baby Bonds in Action: From California to the Nation’s Capital, hosted by GRACE/End Child Poverty CA and End Poverty in California (EPIC), in Oakland, California. Photo: David Radcliffe

Baby Bonds are an increasingly popular government policy in which every child born into poverty receives a publicly funded trust account at birth, providing them with “start-up capital” to pursue fulfilling, productive, prosperous, and self-directed lives. Follow our Baby Blogs series to learn about the vision, politics, and people behind Baby Bonds and their transformative impact on the lives of young people, their families, and communities.

In this installment of Baby Blogs, Shimica Gaskins, President and CEO of GRACE/End Child Poverty CA, and Devon Gray, President of End Poverty in California and former special advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom, discuss California’s progress in advancing its Baby Bonds HOPE Accounts Program.

Here in California, we are thrilled to be coming out of the gate with Connecticut to show the nation what a large scale investment in the future of the next generation can do. Our Baby Bonds program—HOPE Accounts—is seeded by the state and invested on behalf of recipients who are foster youth or young people who have lost a parent to COVID-19.

Recently in Oakland, our organizations GRACE/End Child Poverty CA and End Poverty in California had the privilege of hosting many others from across the nation who are equally enthusiastic about Baby Bonds. Advocates, practitioners, and directly-impacted youth participated in our day-long convening, Baby Bonds in Action: From California to the Nation’s Capital! While we came together to exchange ideas on Baby Bonds, the day was filled with robust discussion on closing the racial wealth gap, the roles of guaranteed income and child savings accounts, and the bold steps needed to create opportunities for youth to be the architects of their own futures. 

From left, Alexandra Cawthorne Gains of the JPMorgan Chase PolicyCenter, Jesse Johnson of the Office of Washington State Treasurer, Shimica Gaskins of GRACE/End Child Poverty CA, and Andrea Comer of the Office of Connecticut State Treasurer, at Baby Bonds in Action: From California to the Nation’s Capital, hosted by GRACE/End Child Poverty CA and End Poverty in California (EPIC), in Oakland, California, February 2024. Photo: David Radcliffe

We heard from “The Godfather” of Baby Bonds himself, Dr. Darrick Hamilton; Baby Bonds policy leaders in Connecticut, Washington State, and California; leading thinkers like Dr. William Elliott, Director of the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion at the University of Michigan, and Solana Rice of Liberation in a Generation; and former foster youth who, along with young people who lost a parent to COVID-19, are members of the State of California’s Youth Panel of Experts. The panel is helping the state with designing the implementation and outreach for our HOPE Accounts Baby Bonds program, and its members are also using their voices to share their stories with the public. Jose Cordon, the Poet Laureate of Antioch, also performed a spoken word interpretation of what he heard that day.

The big takeaways from the convening were that we must continue to center and listen to young people in our policy creation and decision-making. The Youth Panel’s ability to speak to how Baby Bonds would increase their sense of agency and help them realize their own dreams makes the policy less abstract, communicates the very real stakes for young people and their families, and lifts up shared values around economic mobility, fairness, and making the American Dream real.

The other incredibly exciting takeaway from our event was a seemingly unanimous desire to break down the silos between direct cash assistance and wealth-building work—particularly around Baby Bonds, guaranteed income, and children’s savings accounts. Creating an income floor and the opportunity to build generational wealth—and the myriad approaches to doing that—should be recognized as integral parts of an effort to make economic mobility truly accessible to anyone in the nation. The people involved in this work must talk to one another, learn from one another, and amplify one another’s work, including through a shared framing that communicates the many policy tools available to build and sustain wealth.

Devon Gray (center right) of End Poverty in California speaks at Baby Bonds in Action: From California to the Nation’s Capital, alongside, from left, David Radcliffe of the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy, Solana Rice of Liberation in a Generation, and Dr. William Elliott of the University of Michigan. Photo: End Poverty in California

In California, approximately 58,500 youth will receive access to $4,500 in their HOPE Accounts at age 18, and the money will remain available until age 26. While the program allows participants the autonomy in deciding how to utilize the funding, many members of the Youth Panel expressed a desire for financial literacy mentoring and training, which will be made available to program participants.

California’s HOPE Program is planning to launch in 2025 with its first recipients over 18 being able to draw down available funding. This timeline presents a unique opportunity to learn from youth and to study the kinds of impacts that Baby Bonds can have without needing to wait nearly two decades. Moreover, because California is also spending $1 billion on Guaranteed Income Pilots, and over $3 billion on Children’s Savings Accounts (CalKIDS), we will be able to examine the synergistic effects of wealth-building and direct cash transfers. Through this initiative, we hope to make a major contribution to how the nation understands building and sustaining wealth, reducing the racial wealth gap, and the government’s role in leveling the playing field so that we can also close the opportunity gap that exists for far too many children in California and across the nation.

As the movement for Baby Bonds continues to grow, including in the private sector, we are excited to be part of the work that is producing real results at the policy level and gaining traction through education and increased media attention. We hope this increasingly coordinated and vibrant movement will send a loud and clear message to our friends in the federal government about what is possible today and tomorrow.

Shimica Gaskins is President & CEO of GRACE/End Child Poverty CA.

Devon Gray is the president of End Poverty in California. He previously served as a special adviser in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration.

If you missed previous installments of our Baby Blogs series, read them here

Learn more about Baby Bonds in California.

To share feedback on this blog, or for questions about Baby Bonds, email David Radcliffe at [email protected].

To learn more, explore our Baby Bonds resources.