How a guaranteed $600 per month is changing the lives of the formerly incarcerated

By: Sarah Krueger

Tydricka Lewis is appreciative of the $600 she’s given each month as part of Durham’s guaranteed basic income program.

“It has impacted my life tremendously, making it more efficient for me to be a mother [in] a single parent home,” Lewis said. “I’m able to provide reliable decent transportation for my children.”

Lewis, a mother to three children, acknowledged the money is even more necessary with recent inflation.

On Thursday, nonprofit StepUp Durham provided data on how its guaranteed basic income program doing since launching in March.

StepUp Durham provides $600 each month, with no strings attached, to 109 people who were formerly incarcerated.

“None of the 109 have been reincarcerated,” said StepUp Durham Executive Director Syretta Hill.

Hill said about 40% of people who come out of incarceration return within three years.

“The fact that people are not returning to incarceration has a lot to do, I think, with having more money in their pockets to be able to take care of the things they need to take care of,” Hill said.

Durham is one of only 50 U.S. cities with a guaranteed basic income program. Hill hopes the Durham program and others like it across the country will make the case for a federal policy.

Hills said the participants are spending money on taking care of themselves, families, food, transportation and household needs.

“The goal is to see what it means for individuals, who have historically lived on the margins, to get supplemental income,” Hill said.

Lewis said she works 60 hours per week at two different jobs.

“If people have the things that they need on an everyday basis, the world would be at much peace,” Lewis said.

Hill said private donations have funded the StepUp Durham program.

Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton said the program pushes back on the critique that people weren’t going to spend money on necessities. He also was pleased no one in the program has been reincarcerated.

“People that are economically stable, who aren’t worried about how they’re going to feed their children, make better neighbors,” Middleton said.

Middleton said he would support spending city funds for the program. He also said he would push for the program to continue.

“Here’s an initiative that’s not policing. It’s not ShotSpotter. It’s not hiring more cops,” Middleton said. “It goes directly to what we say the problem is: Lack of resources [and a] lack of opportunity.”

Hill said she hopes guaranteed basic income will continue in Durham, even if it’s not run by StepUp Durham.

“When we think about economic disparities, we know that women and people of color are often impacted by wealth gaps,” Hill said. “And so, we’re hoping that things like guaranteed income can really fill in the gaps.”

Lewis said she’s been able to start her nonprofit New Generation Movement with the buffer of money from the guaranteed basic income. The nonprofit is a women’s mentorship group.

“If we provide the residents or the citizens in our county with the things that they need, we would have a little bit more peace,” Lewis said. “I do believe the gun violence would end, tremendously.”

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