In 2020 and 2021, Tamara Ware received $1,000 a month from a basic-income program. The program provided monthly funds to 100 low-income Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi.
By: Jason Lalljee
Tamara Ware, 37, who taught prekindergarten for 18 years, was suddenly sent home in March 2020 without an alternative plan — or a paycheck.
Along with 701,000 other people in the US that month, she’d lost her job. She got by with a little help from no-strings-attached $1,000 checks every month for the next year.
“I didn’t know how I was going to make ends meet,” Ware told Insider. “But Magnolia funding came right on time.”
As a low-income Black mother in Jackson, Mississippi, Ware was eligible for funding from the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a basic-income program in the city that provides $1,000 per month to 100 women for a year. Funded by a combination of individual and institutional donors, Magnolia has been giving out money since 2018. It’s currently on its third cohort of mothers.
Basic-income programs like Magnolia have been growing in popularity over the past few years, especially as the pandemic caused financial strain for many low-income households. Insider reported last month that there are at least 33 local UBI-type programs across the US. Basic-income programs differ from traditional welfare programs in that they come with no strings attached — participants are free to spend the money however they like.
Support to get back on her feet
Programs like Magnolia specifically target groups of people that are more likely to face financial hardship. California, for instance, provides funds for programs geared toward low-income pregnant people and young adults transitioning out of the foster-care system.
“It shocked many people that the program only focused on Black mothers living in extreme poverty, but I believe we must be intentional in our approach,” Aisha Nyandoro, who runs Magnolia, told Insider. “In Jackson, Black women and their children are the most financially insecure.”
Ware said that the Magnolia funds helped her pay for rent and groceries when faced with sudden unemployment. Additionally, she used free resources that Magnolia offered its participants, like classes on building good credit, counseling, and meditation sessions.
“They have a lot of good resources that people should use,” she said. “I will always advocate for this program. It’s helpful getting people back on their feet and making them financially stable.”
The program helped Ware weather months of unemployment
Ware has been teaching children since she was a teenager. She had her first daughter when she was 18 years old and immediately got a job working at a day-care center.
“That made me want to be a teacher,” she said. “I knew what I wanted to do right away.”
By the time COVID-19 restrictions shut down her school, it had been nearly two decades since she’d gone longer than a holiday break without working in child care. And she wasn’t getting paid to stay at home.
Ware told Insider that unemployment checks alone weren’t enough for her family to pay their bills — as a teacher, she was paid $550 a week, and employment checks came out to about $250.
She eventually started working again in 2021, but things were rough for her family in the meantime, especially when she contracted COVID-19 in November 2020 and experienced symptoms for two full months, she said. Her three daughters had to stay with her sister during that period.
The decision to enter the classroom again wasn’t an easy one for Ware, given that students and teachers have been catching COVID-19 at alarming rates.
“I had to make a decision to risk my health or my own children’s health if I decided to go to work,” she said, a predicament that teachers throughout the country are facing.
While Ware was unemployed, and especially when she was sick, Magnolia helped her pay for things her family really needed — and she said the program’s “blank check” approach was crucial during this time.
“There are so many single Black mothers I know in the world who are like me,” she said. “There’s a bunch of me in every state, I’m sure — single, working-class moms. I completely advocate for the program and feel more people should do it with no strings attached.”