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Guaranteed Income Programs Are Uplifting Oppressed Communities Across the US

Many of these initiatives are aimed at helping Black mothers, trans residents and formerly incarcerated people.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer helps Wes Hansen, 4, eat an apple during breakfast break at Repetto Elementary School in Monterey Park, California, on August 17, 2021.

The expanded child tax credit, signed into law by President Joe Biden more than two years ago, provided families with children with monthly installments of $250 or $300, reduced rates of child poverty, and served as a lifeline for low-income families. The tax credit expired after the 2022 tax year, and efforts to revive it were unsuccessful. In its absence, local and state organizers and advocates are actively working to provide residents with financial assistance via guaranteed income programs.

There are currently 47 active guaranteed income initiatives across the country, almost half of which target mothers and low-income people. Policymakers have also recently greenlit guaranteed income pilot programs in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Harris County, Texas, and Rochester, New York. While some of these programs are income based or target those impacted by racial inequity, others target different marginalized groups, like Durham, North Carolina’s cash assistance pilot for formerly incarcerated people.

Advocates across the board say guaranteed income programs uplift their participants and provide them autonomy. Research suggests that these programs, including the expanded child tax credit, enhance participants’ well-being, self-determination, and financial stability.

Prism spoke to a few advocates and participants of recently established guaranteed income programs about how their program works, why they think it’s necessary, how it’s going, and what impact a cash allowance has had on recipients.

New York City’s Bridge Project

Launched in 2021, New York City’s Bridge Project gives low-income mothers up to $1,000 per month for 36 months. The organization began as an offshoot of the Monarch Foundation, which supports nonprofits aimed at improving the lives of marginalized families in New York City. After the pandemic hit, the Monarch Foundation began providing monthly installments to low-income people through the Bridge Project.

Bridge Project Executive Director and Co-Founder Megha Agarwal said that the program administrators and participating mothers can address problems as they arise using guaranteed income funds, such as sudden unemployment and emergencies.

“I think a huge benefit is that it’s super low lift and the administrative burden, and the administrative cost is close to nothing. What it allows us to do is reach a lot of different situations with a one-size-fits-all type of solution that somehow [has flexibility] inherently built into it,” said Agarwal.

Abigail Morisson, a Black mother who lives in South Bronx, echoed Agarwal’s sentiment about the flexibility ingrained in the Bridge Project’s design of no-strings-attached cash allowance. Morrison learned about the Bridge Project on Instagram last year and applied for the program while on unemployment after losing her job while pregnant. Several months later, Morisson found a new job and was onboarded into the Bridge Project. She started receiving funds by the time she was ready to go on maternity leave. Morisson now uses her Bridge Project funds for child care for her 1-year-old daughter.

“It’s very helpful for me. It’s such a blessing,” Morrison said. “After two weeks [of work], I come home with $1,200 after taxes. With that, I have to pay bills. [With the cash allowance,] I’m not stressing out about ‘Oh my god, where am I going to get money for babysitting?’ I know it’s coming in.”

But even with the assistance she receives from the Bridge Project, Morisson still struggles financially. The average cost of child care for an infant in New York state is $1,283 per month. Morisson, who works in higher education in New York City, could be affected by the newly proposed city budget cuts.

“I have a bachelor’s degree, I’m doing the job I want to do, but the fact that I’m not making what I’m supposed to be making is just insane,” Morrison said. “I am not even able to save. Everything goes up [in cost] constantly. [My Bridge Project funds] just bring me to a middle ground.”

Despite struggling with finances, Morisson said the Bridge Project has provided her with a sense of ease and community. Compared to other support programs such as food stamps, the Bridge Project offers more comprehensive, direct support.

“We get newsletters, we have Whatsapp groups where we have other moms in the program where we speak to each other,” Morrison said. “It puts me at ease mentally … I would love it if this [program] could be able to help moms across the nation.”

Washington, D.C.’s Mother Up Pilot Program

While some organizations like the Bridge Project are directing their funds toward low-income mothers, others are establishing pilot programs to assist Black mothers entangled in the child welfare and family policing systems. Mother’s Outreach Network, an advocacy organization that focuses on supporting Black mothers impacted by poverty by transforming the child welfare system, launched the Mother Up Pilot in May. The pilot will provide Black mothers with open Washington, D.C., Child and Family Services cases with $500 monthly payments for three years.

“We hope what we’ll see is an easing of the financial burdens for those Black mothers and a prevention of further intervention from the child welfare system,” said Melody Webb, the executive director of the Mother’s Outreach Network. “We hope to keep the families together who are participating.”

Yesmine Holmes, a resident of northeast Washington, D.C., and one of the five inaugural mothers in the Mother Up Pilot, said she learned about the program from her former employer. Holmes is currently pregnant with her fourth child and believes guaranteed basic income programs like the Mother Up Pilot can be a life-changer for young mothers, especially those facing family policing investigations.

“I’m not just dividing my money … amongst me and the kids,” she said. “I think young mothers such as me need this help. [There are] people out there that do care and do want the best for us because CPS could be a traumatic experience for somebody.”

San Francisco’s Guaranteed Income for Transgender People Program

In November 2022, San Francisco launched the first guaranteed income program for trans people, the Guaranteed Income for Transgender People (GIFT) program. GIFT issued its first payment in January 2023 and provides 55 low-income trans people in San Francisco with $1,200 monthly until July 2024. The program is directed toward the many trans people who face many barriers to economic stability.

According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, the most recent and extensive data on the experiences of trans people in the U.S., 15% of respondents were unemployed, 29% lived in poverty, and 13% had lost a job because of their gender identity or expression. Trans people also experience mistreatment in shelters, housing discrimination on the basis of being trans, and homelessness.

Josie Caballero, the director of the U.S. Transgender Survey and special projects for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the Trump administration’s discrimination against trans people in the provision of social services emphasizes the importance of an equitable social safety net.

“We need to have stronger policies that enforce equality of service to trans individuals,” Caballero said. “Trans people are more likely to be living in poverty, they are more likely to have to use the social assistance programs to be able to make it by, so that’s food assistance, that’s shelter, that’s housing assistance. Especially when you’re talking about marginalized communities, such as trans people, a safety net may be the only thing that is keeping that person alive.”

Caballero said guaranteed income programs can help trans people access health care, housing, food, and economic security and learn to thrive during this time of crisis in the U.S.

“Every bit of assistance that can support the [trans] community … would be absolutely incredibly important for the survival of our community,” Caballero said.

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. We report from the ground up and at the intersections of injustice.

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