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This basic income program gives no-strings-attached cash to moms living in extreme poverty

In 2021, Magnolia Mother’s Trust—a winner of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—gave $1,000 a month to its third cohort of Mississippi Black moms in extreme poverty, helping them pay their bills, buy food, and save for emergencies.

This basic income program gives no-strings-attached cash to moms living in extreme poverty
[Source Image: selensergen/iStock/Getty Images Plus]

Halfway through 2021, Sherika had to leave her job as a home health aide. It was a great job, she wrote in a first-person account for Ms. Magazine, and she loved her patients, but she recently had a daughter, and couldn’t find anyone to watch her. “As soon as my youngest is walking and talking, I’ll be back,” she wrote in December, when her youngest was 10 months old.

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Until then, though, she has payments from Magnolia Mother’s Trust to help pay the bills. A guaranteed income program that provides $1,000 a month for 12 months to Black moms living in extreme poverty in Jackson, Mississippi, Magnolia Mother’s Trust dispersed payments to 100 mothers as part of its third cohort that began in 2021. Sherika was one of them, and being part of the program, she wrote, “has really lifted a burden off my shoulders as a mom.” She would have otherwise asked for her family’s help to buy things like school supplies; with the guaranteed income payment coming in—coupled with the child text credit—she went school shopping early that year, paid her bills, and saved money.

“If it weren’t for those payments,” she wrote, “I wouldn’t have been able to take a little time off to care for my baby. I really don’t know what I would have done.”

2021 marked the third year of Magnolia Mother’s Trust payments, making it the longest-running guaranteed income program in the U.S., and the only one to focus on Black women specifically. It’s a project from Springboard to Opportunities, a nonprofit that has provided services to families in affordable housing since 2013, and the winner of the established excellence (5-14 years in business) category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.

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Springboard to Opportunities has long focused on families in affordable housing, working with them to help them get better jobs or educate their kids. But founder and chief executive Aisha Nyandoro says that around 2017, she became concerned that they weren’t really “moving the needle” on poverty. They weren’t seeing families leave affordable housing, so they asked those families what was missing from the services the nonprofit was already offering. “Every story that we heard from our families, when we sat down and looked at the stories and looked at the data, they could be resolved with cash,” Nyandoro says.

Once she realized their families just needed money, Nyandoro had to figure out how to give it to them. This was before Mayors for a Guaranteed Income was formed, and before cities like Stockton had the first results from their basic income pilots. It was 2018, and Springboard to Opportunities put together a “task force of moms,” Nyandoro says, to figure it out. With funding that first year from the nonprofit Economic Security Project and a private donor (the program is now fully funded from private donors), they were able to give $1,000 a month to extremely low-income Black mothers in Mississippi. (The poverty rate for Black women is more than twice that of white women, a figure from pre-pandemic, though the pandemic hit Black women the hardest in terms of job loss.)

It launched in 2018 with 20 moms. The next year it grew to 110 mothers. It began its third round of payments to 100 mothers in April 2021. The percentage of mothers who could pay their bills on time increased from 27% to 83%, according to data on the second cohort, which wrapped up payments in March 2021. More moms could save for emergencies, and those who reported having enough money for food grew from 64% to 81%.

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Moms also reported being able to throw birthday parties for their kids, go on small vacations, “still have some sense of normalcy,” Nyandoro says. And the program helped change the narrative on poverty. “The majority of individuals who live in poverty are poor because of the systems that we have intentionally designed, and that we intentionally continue to elevate, and did not create an opportunity for them to exit,” she says. “And that’s it. It’s not because we are any better and they are any worse. It’s the system.”

The idea of basic income has grown since then, and Nyandoro says her nonprofit is fortunate to have helped show it can be done—with agency and dignity for its recipients. From here, Magnolia Mother’s Trust plans to keep running (it launched its fourth cohort in April), and Nyandoro hopes there’s more to come for the entire movement. “When I think about what’s next, it’s not just what’s next for my work but what’s next collectively for individuals within this country who are working on it and who need financial resources,” she says, “and those resources can be deployed from our federal government in the form of policy being shaped and shifted.”

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