Basic income program participant: ‘People want to work but things stop them from being able to’

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Editor’s note: In the piece below, guaranteed income recipient Ashala mentions the federal government’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, which gives money to states to distribute to needy populations.

Several Mississippi state officials, including former Governor Phil Bryant and Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, have been accused of funneling away tens of millions of TANF dollars originally earmarked for nonprofits that work with at-risk populations. Bryant, Favre and others used the funds as “literal currency for favors, both political and financial,” according to one nonprofit leader.

Mississippi has the worst poverty rate in the nation, with one in five Mississippians living in poverty. In 2020 alone, officials in the state government spend over $94 million in federal welfare funds considered by state audit to “suspect spending.” “What good could have been done in Mississippi with this $94 million? How many families could’ve been impacted?” said Aisha Nyandoro, the chief executive of Springboard To Opportunities, which distributes the Magnolia Mother’s Trust.

I’m 27, and I have a daughter who’s in sixth grade. She is very smart and caring. It’s just the two of us.

I’m currently looking for a job. I thought I had this one at a gas station but the lady told me she had to wait on her manager, so right now I’m not working.

In the past, I worked fast food at Burger King. I really loved it, I could’ve been a manager. But I ended up leaving to take a job caring for elderly people. That was a great job too, and something I have a lot of experience with because I took care of my great-grandparents. My mom and my grandmama couldn’t do it because they were working. And now my grandma is sick too with heart failure, so I have to take care of her. That’s one of the big reasons it’s been so hard for me to work right now, because I’m caring for her and I haven’t been able to get a childcare voucher for my child. And the daycare she used to go to charges $90 a week, and I just can’t afford that every week.

The programs are just really difficult, because if you work, then they cut down your food stamps—but then you can get TANF. But TANF is only like $100 a month, which just isn’t enough. 

I’ve really just been raising my child myself, because I don’t get any child support or any other help than food stamps, and those are only for her, not for both of us. Before the Magnolia Mother’s Trust started this year, I didn’t really have a steady income coming in. I’d make ends meet by doing hair or babysitting or doing errands for my grandma to get a little money. It was hard, but I try not to let it get to me because I’ve got my little girl who needs me, and no one is going to love her like her mommy.

When I first heard about the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, it was from a flier left on my door. At first, I thought it was a scam. But I applied because you gotta do what you gotta do and I figured it wouldn’t hurt, and then I was so happy when I was selected. The money has really had a big impact on my life, and my daughter’s. Now I don’t have to rely on my grandmother for things — I can pay my own light bill, buy my own groceries. And my daughter has been able to get a couple new things for her room, which we wouldn’t have been able to do before. It’s also helped with prices going up on everything, especially gas since it seems like my car just eats up gas.

While I have this money, I really want to take her on a trip out of town. That’s something we haven’t really done either. And my big goal is to rent a little house. My baby doesn’t even come outside anymore, she has a bike and everything but she just stays inside. The last time she came out, there was a shooting with a guy losing control of his car and all sorts of mess. So I want to move, and start with renting. 

One day, I hope to buy a house. I tried to buy one around the corner at one point, but the guy just wanted too much for it. Even just renting, it’s hard to get in because you need to be making like three or four times the rent and have a high credit score. Having a place of our own to me just means being comfortable—comfortable to go outside and play and not have to be scared of gunshots and things like that. To have some safety and freedom.

I know we don’t have the monthly child tax credit anymore because politicians think giving people money will stop them from working. But I think they need to actually listen to our stories. People want to work, but things stop them from being able to. Who is going to watch the kids? I’ve brought my daughter to work before when I couldn’t get childcare. She’d just sit there in the lobby and wait for me. But kids shouldn’t have to do that. We should have daycares and vouchers so that people actually can work.

Until I’m able to go back to work I’m grateful to be alive, to be able to spend time with my daughter and to plan a trip. I just try to stay positive.

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