Maureen Gardner is proud of her 5-month-old son Garrett, who she says can already identify the color red and is growing so fast that he fits into clothes for a 1-year-old. Last July in New York City, a month before Garrett was born, Gardner began receiving $1,000 in cash monthly from The Bridge Project as part of a guaranteed income program intended to reduce poverty among women of color in the city.
“This was really a godsend for me,” she says from her apartment in Harlem, speaking in hushed tones while Garrett naps.
Guaranteed income projects are distinct from presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s idea of a universal basic income, which is premised on cash payments to everyone, not just the most vulnerable. A prominent example of a guaranteed income project is the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, which put $500 a month into the hands of 125 low-income residents of Stockton, California, for 24 months. Data gathered from the SEED project found that the cash significantly helped recipients stabilize their finances, acquire jobs, and improve their mental health, compared with a control group.
Can Guaranteed Incomes Benefit Low-Income Women and Children of Color?
Buoyed by the success of the Stockton experiment, guaranteed income projects, like the one Gardner is part of, are cropping up in major cities around the country. With the understanding that systemic economic racism results in disproportionate poverty within Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, many projects are specifically targeting low-income people of color, and primarily women and mothers.
Megha Agarwal, the executive director of The Bridge Project and of The Monarch Foundation, which funds the program, explains that it “was formed out of our desire to support the babies and mothers in New York and beyond who are suffering devastating effects from poverty.” According to Agarwal, of the 100 mothers currently enrolled in the program, 74% identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 40% identify as Black; 20% are undocumented. “Guaranteed income has long been on the list of demands to receive racial and economic liberation,” she says.
A similar program, run by the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund, also focuses on women of color—specifically Black women—in Atlanta. Hope Wollensack, the executive director of the GRO Fund and co-director of the In Her Hands Guaranteed Income Initiative based in Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward, says it is “the largest program focusing on Black women in the country.”
“Centering Black women is really important,” Wollensack explains, because “they are one of the groups experiencing the most acute and sharpest impacts of economic insecurity that exists.”
Over the brief six-month duration of the child tax credit program, the modest monthly payments of a few hundred dollars cut child poverty by almost 30%. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 90% of low-income families receiving the payments used the money “for the most basic household expenses—food, clothing, shelter, and utilities—or education.”
“Our national social safety net is predicated on the idea that poverty is a personal choice and not structural or a policy choice,” says Moran.
In reality, Agarwal says the choice to maintain poverty is an external one—made by our government. Through the child tax credit, “We were able to alleviate poverty at massive scales.” In letting the program expire, she adds, “We’ve said it’s OK to let those people fall back into poverty.”
For women like Gardner, a modest amount of available cash is making a world of difference. “I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t have it,” she says.