Free Muni for youth a rare progressive victory

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The left isn't winning all that much these days, but Sup. David Campos had a huge victory with the passage of a plan to offer free Muni to some 40,000 low-income kids. The challenges aren't over -- it's still not clear, for example, how the actual clipper cards will be distributed -- but this is a big step forward.

And it didn't come easily. Campos worked with a coalition of low-income advocates that refused to give up despite two years of setbacks.

"We were relentless, even when we lost," Campos told me.

It's no secret that I've supported this plan all along (I actually like free Muni for all youth). And I think we'll get there. In the meantime, for low-income middle-school and high-school kids, most of whom don't get school bus rides any more, this is a big deal. The price of taking Muni to school ($1 a day for youth fares) is a significant amount of money, particularly for families with several kids who are struggling to make rent and eat. Yeah, there are cheaper youth passes -- but you have to go to a Muni office in the middle of the day and bring proof of your kid's age and it's a pain in the ass for working parents.

So now it's up to the MTA to figure out how to make it easy for families, some of them with limited English proficiency and virtually no time to wait in lines at Muni offices, to take advantage of the program. "We're going to spend a lot of time doing outreach," Campos said. "We're working with Muni and with community-based organizations. We're going to make this as easy as possible."

The obvious solution, in my mind, is to distribute the passes at public schools. The school district already has income information on the kids, through the free and reduced-price lunch program; in theory, all anyone would have to do is take that list, adjust it a bit (because the eligibility for lunches and Muni passes is a little different) and hand out the passes at middle-school and high-school campuses. (You'd miss low-income kids who go to parochial schools, and a few others, but SFUSD wouldn't be the only provider, just the first.)

And it's education-related, since most of these kids take Muni to and from school -- or should.

Problem is, there are legal rules about the use of the lunch data (although there must be a way to get around it) and SFUSD doesn't seem terribly interested. (More work, more hassles for an already overworked and underfunded district.) But you could station one Muni worker at each school to hand out the passes, right? Or Muni could use some of the outreach money to pay for the SFUSD staff time.

At any rate, those are details. The main point is that Campos and his allies managed to beat back the opposition and make this actually happen. Good job.

(Oh, and the same day, Sup. Jane Kim managed to get $1.7 million for the schools to help with graduation rates -- without raiding the Rainy Day Fund. Two progressive wins and it's only the 5th of December.)