Georgia basic income pilot seems to be working

Georgia basic income pilot seems to be working
Georgia basic income pilot seems to be working

By Timothy Pratt

See original post here.

La-Kingya Singleton almost didn’t answer the call. It was after 5pm and from an 800- phone number. “I thought it was a robocall,” she said.

But it wasn’t. It was someone from the In Her Hands initiative – the largest guaranteed-income pilot program in the southern US, and which focuses on Black women. The caller told her she had been selected, by lottery, as one of 650 women to receive an average of $850 a month, for two years, no strings attached – a concept known as guaranteed income.

“I never thought in a million years I would be selected,” the 42-year-old Atlanta mother of three adult children recalled. “I’ve never been lucky.”

That was last spring. Now the program – run by the Atlanta-based non-profit organization the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund (GRO Fund), in partnership with GiveDirectly, the largest backer of guaranteed-income projects in the US – has reached its halfway point.

For Singleton, this has meant she has lived a year in an Atlanta apartment, after becoming homeless when she couldn’t find a landlord to accept her city housing voucher during the pandemic.

And for the pilot, it means preliminary data is now available showing the effectiveness of guaranteed income as a means of combating poverty in Georgia – slightly more than half the women have saved some money, compared to none at the project’s outset; three times as many women have been able to afford childcare; and the share of women whose cellphone service was interrupted due to unpaid bills dropped from 60 to 40%.

These and other findings come as more than 100 projects centered on giving cash with no restrictions or requirements have started in the last several years, leading a group called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to launch a nationwide speaking tour in recent weeks, screening a new documentary on these efforts called It’s Basic.

Researchers say the growing body of evidence from guaranteed-income projects has the potential to spur a reevaluation of how government can more effectively create a social safety net for historically-marginalized populations.

The flurry of activity includes cities such as Rochester, New York, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Philadelphia announcing new projects.

“Literally every week or two we learn of a new pilot,” said Sean Kline, associate director at the Stanford University Basic Income Lab. “These last two years, a number of factors has led to the proliferation of experiments,” he added. “There’s growing inequality and economic insecurity and the pandemic, a public health crisis, led to an economic crisis … [and] in 2020 and 2021, police murders brought racial justice to everyone’s attention.”

Unlike the Georgia pilot, which has relied on private donations, many efforts to date run by local government are using federal, Covid-related funds. Some, like In Her Hands, are aimed at particular populations, such as public housing residents, or mothers, or entrepreneurs. In Georgia, potential participants had to demonstrate earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less – or $29,160 for a single person and $60,000 for a family of four.

Outcomes and research showing the efficacy of guaranteed income will be key to moving beyond small-scale projects and on to state and federal programs, said Kline. In addition to his group at Stanford, the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania is also studying the issue.

Researchers also point out that the Child Tax Credit – offered earlier in the pandemic and not renewed by Congress earlier this year – showed poverty can be reduced by offering no-strings-attached funds, and that the growing body of evidence from guaranteed-income pilots, together with the tax credit experience, should help convince lawmakers to turn these ideas into policy.

Outcomes in Georgia show that the 650 women enrolled have spent most of their monthly payments on utilities, food and rent. But program researcher Leah Hamilton, social work professor at Appalachian State University, said the pilot is also using surveys and other means to measure issues like mental health, and whether participants are more likely to reach goals with the help of guaranteed income. The idea, said Tyler Hall, communications director at GiveDirectly, is to determine “how did this change their life?”

Singleton said most of her monthly payments go to rent – $2,224. She works at three jobs to cover her costs – as a paralegal, as a realtor and as a shopper for Shipt. The program “helps with my stress”, she said. At the same time, her monthly costs don’t allow her to pay off past debts, and she worries what will happen when the program ends. “I can’t plan for the future – especially with my rent being as high as it is,” she said.

When Michael Tubbs was mayor of Stockton, California, in 2019, he launched a pilot program. He went on to found Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and produced It’s Basic. He said the biggest obstacle to turning guaranteed income into public policy is “political will”. Data alone won’t overcome that obstacle, he said; “it’s going to take a lot of storytelling” – which he plans to do on the national tour currently under way.

Opposition to giving cash directly to people in poverty is particularly acute when it comes to Black women, Kline said – due to historic racist perceptions of those suffering from poverty. “It takes challenging longstanding, harmful narratives that are often racialized and gender-based … of ‘the welfare queen’ and who’s deserving of help,” Kline said.

The “welfare queen” idea comes from the racist and sexist Reagan-era notion that Black women take public money, spend it frivolously, and don’t work. The concept has long been disproved, but can still persist in policy debate. “Racism and sexism are such pernicious forces,” Tubbs said.

In Her Hands is focused on Black women because they earn US 63¢ for every dollar that white men earn in Georgia, according to the program; and in Old Fourth Ward, one of the three areas the program focuses on – and where Singleton lives – 38% of Black women live in poverty.

Asked about the stereotypes that persist in policy discussions around poor people in general and Black women in particular, Singleton noted that, as helpful as the money is, the Georgia funds are about alleviating some of the burdens of poverty. She still has to work more than full-time.

“We’re forced to budget if we want a safe environment for our children,” she said. “As a Black woman, if you’ don’t know how to budget, you’re forced to learn how. We’ve learned to survive with what we have.”

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