West Hollywood city officials have decided to remove a requirement that applicants for the city’s new guaranteed income pilot program identify as LGBTQ because it likely violates the California constitution.
City staff will present at City Council’s meeting Monday a revised overview of the program, which will give a limited number of senior WeHo residents a $1,000 no-strings-attached cash stipend every month. The revised program keeps the other three criteria: age, income level and residency.
The dubious legality of the sexual orientation requirement seems to have caught the city off guard, according to the staff report:
In March 2022, the City became aware that the pilot, as it was created and supported by a government entity, was susceptible to legal challenges due to the inclusion of LGBTQIA criteria as an eligibility requirement to participate. Although the City could engage in a legal battle over the contested eligibility requirement, the implications of litigating such a challenge had to be considered.
Having LGBTQIA identification as an eligibility requirement for the pilot could potentially violate the California Constitution as sexual orientation is a protected suspect class in our state. This means that when a law or government-funded program treats persons differently based on sexual orientation, those laws and program are subject to an exacting standard known as strict scrutiny (even if the law is intended to benefit that protected suspect class). Guaranteed income is an emerging area of policy making, with many nuanced components, and there is no direct case law on this issue. However, based on analogous legal situations, negative and unintended outcomes from litigation are probable. On a community level, a decision to engage in a legal battle could have the additional unintended consequence of causing harm to the community members the pilot was created to support.
Therefore, the City Attorney, City staff and pilot partners recommend that the City Council revise the pilot to include three of the four original criteria (residency, age and income level) in order to satisfy the legal obligations, protect potential participants, and move forward with a program that serves community members in need of financial support and stability.
With tremendous collective frustration and disappointment that we are unable to advance the original pilot, City staff and partners are suggesting a modified path forward: to move forward with a revised pilot designed for older adult West Hollywood community members living on a low income.