The Gary City Council will vote on an ordinance that would extend the guaranteed income program. Will the program continue?
By: Molly DeVore.
Like millions of people across the globe, when the pandemic hit, Burgess Peoples lost her job.
Feeling financially “squeezed,” she started budgeting her money and looking for work. One day she discovered an article about the Guaranteed Income Validation Effort, or G.I.V.E, championed by former Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs. Tubbs’ program, which gave certain residents $500 a month, has been replicated in cities across the country. Peoples was inspired and presented the idea to Gary Mayor Jerome Prince who “jumped” at the opportunity.
“This program has been a whirlwind of excitement for me because I know what it is like to be where they are,” Peoples said, reflecting on her experience as a young mother trying to live off unemployment 20 years ago.
Peoples, the executive director of the Gary G.I.V.E. program, said that last spring the city launched the pilot program using $500,000 of seed money from the federal organization, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. A survey was sent to 4,000 residents, and from the responses 125 people were chosen to participate, receiving $500 a month for 12 months.
G.I.V.E. ran out of funding in December 2021, and an ordinance allocating $400,000 to fund the remaining six months of the program was discussed during a Tuesday Ways and Means Committee meeting. The ordinance will be voted on at the Feb. 15 City Council meeting.
Without the additional funding, “the program is in jeopardy of ending permanently,” Prince said during the Ways and Means meeting.
After the pilot, the city will present the results to the federal government in the hopes that the program will be implemented on a national scale. Gary is the first city in Indiana to implement G.I.V.E., but Peoples said she is working with other cities in the Region who have shown interest, such as Hammond, Portage and Hobart.
After just six months of the program, the results show that “in short, it works,” Prince said. About 37% of participants have gone back to work or maintained employment, 24% opened bank accounts, 4% started a new business and 2.4% have enrolled in higher education.
“They are using these dollars to change their story or to rewrite their story,” Peoples said. “I wanted be able to offer tangible resources, resources that can actually help … because their goal is to never look back on poverty again.”
Deputy Mayor Trent McCain explained that the G.I.V.E. funds are “a hand up, not a hand out.”
“You can’t retire off $500 a month, but it is just a little extra help,” McCain said. “In a city like Gary where we have the highest unemployment in the state and the lowest median income in the state, … this could be the difference between buying school books and buying a new set of tires.”
To ensure participants thrive after the 12-month program, the city also partnered with Centier Bank to offer financial literacy courses. The virtual lessons were distributed to participants once a month, covering everything from how to build credit to the options when borrowing money.
Peoples said 64% of the participants have taken part in the literacy courses. G.I.V.E. also has a wealth series kicking off in March. Open to all Gary residents, the series will be online and will discuss family wealth, community wealth and generational wealth.
“I want them to know money is not something that you have to beg for, but it is something that you have to manage,” Peoples said. “You cannot tell somebody to leave poverty without giving them the tools.”