How St. Paul’s guaranteed-income pilot program helped my family

Mothers and children benefit greatly from the stability provided by these initiatives — which are expanding across the Twin Cities region.

How St. Paul's guaranteed-income pilot program helped my family
How St. Paul's guaranteed-income pilot program helped my family

By LeAndra Estis

See original post here.

Motherhood is simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding roles we can take on in life. Regardless of if we are single or partnered, mothers deserve to be supported in raising the next generation. Receiving a guaranteed income — monthly payments of $500 per month — through the St. Paul People’s Prosperity Project was a life-changing form of support, not just for me, but for my children as well. As guaranteed-income pilots expand around the Twin Cities region, and the state of Minnesota implements Child Tax Credit payments, I hope that more mothers will experience this kind of transformative financial support.

I am the proud mother of a 22-year-old, a 17-year-old and a 2-year-old. When my first two children were young, I worked all the time, with a full-time job and a part-time job, and not much time in between. I would work overnight, take the kids to school, sleep for a few hours, then pick them up — and then it was time to go to my other job. I was physically and mentally exhausted pretty much all the time. The worst part was that often when my kids would ask for things I would have to say no. Despite working so much, I still couldn’t afford it.

Getting accepted into the People’s Prosperity Pilot, which Mayor Melvin Carter championed in 2020, was a game-changer. This guaranteed-income program gave 150 randomly selected St. Paulites with young children a monthly cash payment of $500 per month for 18 months. For me, the immediate impact was feeling like I had room to breathe. I no longer had to worry about how I’d pay the light bill; I was able to choose healthier food at the grocery store. As the program went on, I was able to save more and start planning, and I’m grateful to say that I fulfilled my dream of becoming a homeowner — something that had been outside the range of possible before.

Yet the most meaningful change is the way I’m able to mother my children. I’m able to take my 2-year-old on a day trip to the children’s museum, or take him to see a play at the theater. There are plenty of fruits and veggies for him to eat, and we can stop for a treat like ice cream on special occasions. I’m able to have work-life balance and give him experiences that will enrich his life, and that is so meaningful.

I wish I could have done this with my older children. My high-schooler spent many more years with the version of me that had to work too much in order to survive, but now I can see that it’s never too late to make a difference. When guaranteed income stabilized our household and enabled me to start making the choices I’d always wished I could make, she really blossomed in response. She went from having her share of struggles in school to being an honor roll student enrolled in college courses. She runs track now, and she’s interviewing for internships so she can start exploring potential career paths. To see her come out of her shell and become an advocate who’s speaking up for herself and others fills me with enormous pride.

Being able to parent like this has helped me so much with my mental outlook. I didn’t realize how much income had to do with that! As a Black woman, growing up I was taught to make the best with what you have — and what you don’t have, you simply don’t have. Now I have the advantage of saying yes, I can have these things. I can be a homeowner, I can choose the healthier groceries, I can say “yes, we’ll stop for ice cream” on a special day. These things are for me and my children, just as much as anyone else.

I’m speaking up and advocating for a guaranteed income for all mothers, because there are many more out there who need help, like I did. I want people to know that we aren’t just numbers, and that guaranteed-income programs like the People’s Prosperity Pilot are more than just simple cash transactions. The help I received changed my life, and I’m not afraid to say it. I am breaking the cycle of generational poverty and the trauma that comes with it. Guaranteed income certainly is not the only element behind my success, but it’s been an essential one. I believe that every mother in Minnesota — and across America — deserves this kind of support, to help her family thrive.

LeAndra Estis is a mother of three, a native of St. Paul and an advocate for people in need.

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