Can direct cash payments for Black families work?

Opinion: The Economic Security Project has done work to make the case for how direct cash policy supports the wellbeing of Black mothers and advocates for a national guaranteed income policy.

Black father and his daughter hold piggybank. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

As we reflect on the recent observance of Father’s Day, I have been reflecting on all of the men in my life who support their families and communities. Men who make daily sacrifices and work at jobs they may not love, just to provide for their families. I have also been reflecting on the ways so many Black men have been removed from their families and communities due to systemic factors that disproportionately affect Black families and communities. 

The hyper-incarceration rates of Black men have created voids in a myriad of ways from family structure to economic security and advancement. The absence (read removal) of Black men in certain communities has created a space for entities like the Economic Security Project to step in and support communities in holistic ways.

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I first became aware of the Economic Security Project (ESP) when I was trying to think more substantively about the connection between race and class and the realistic and longstanding ways to elevate Black people out of poverty. The Economic Security Project is making the case for how direct cash policy supports the wellbeing of Black mothers to advocate for a national guaranteed income policy. 

Yes, you read that correctly. Cash. The Economic Security Project seeks to show policymakers and community members clear evidence of how direct cash payments can benefit the overall wellbeing of our community. Their mission for the guaranteed income work is to have a national policy that creates an income floor through which no one can fall.

The work done by the Economic Security Project led me to question whether just how direct cash payments to Black men and women could work as policy. The more I follow their stories and the money after it goes into their pockets, the more I am convinced that direct cash payments to men and women facing hardship does work. That is not to say we should ignore other institutional changes that must occur. We must also invest significantly in making all of our institutions more equitable — beginning with education, healthcare, public health, criminal justice, and housing, to name just a few. 

Economic Security Project’s exposure has allowed them to partner with organizations that have significantly changed the economic trajectory of some Black women and families through direct cash payments and provided an opportunity to meet their basic needs, prioritize their health and the health of their family, and have the agency to make decisions for their family as they see fit.

The Magnolia Mother’s Trust, led by Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard To Opportunities, is a project in Jackson Mississippi that gives $1,000 a month for a year to Black mothers living in subsidized housing. 

Expecting Justice’s Abundant Birth Project, led by Dr. Zea Malawa, is a project in San Francisco that gives unconditional cash to Black and Pacific Islander pregnant persons with the goal of reducing preterm birth rates among these historically disadvantaged groups. 

pregnancy, medicine, healthcare and people concept – gynecologist doctor writing prescription and pregnant african american woman at hospital

The Economic Security Project backed these initiatives, which highlight how a guaranteed income can support the health and wellbeing of people while respecting their dignity and agency. Through this work it showcases the idea that economic policy that trusts those that it seeks to help works.

Hearing stories of Black women who were able to take cash payments to pay for monthly bills is just one part of the story. What is a signature feature of these projects is giving Black women the opportunity to have cash to occasionally buy something that is not a bill. This program gives women the opportunity and freedom to be and/or become their full selves.The stress of only having money to pay bills and not being able to afford anything outside of those margins creates adverse health outcomes which can spiral into dire circumstances. This case study has shown that a relatively small monthly cash stipend has not only positive economic effects for families, but the positive effects on their mental and physical health can be measured and affirmed.

In thinking critically about the role of Black women in society, often hailed as the keepers of democracy, we must continue to think about how Black women could be better supported in their various endeavors, especially Black women who are on the margins of financial security.

There is also a study on the Eastern Band Cherokee casino which provided a dividend to tribal members. The study found those who received the dividend also saw changes in their child’s behavior when it came to criminal behavior in that an increased dividend was responsible for decreased adverse behavior. The study also found that families who received the dividend saw improved parental interactions with their children. In an ideal scenario, Black families would not currently face the three-pronged pandemics of COVID-19, systemic racism and police brutality. Research has shown that Black fathers tend to be more participatory in their children’s lives, despite the institutional barriers working against them and their communities.

Indeed, a disproportionate amount of Black men are currently incarcerated or dealing with the carceral state in some capacity. However, there are still millions of Black men who are contributing to their families and communities and if we had a guaranteed income in this country, Black men and women would benefit. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Economic Security Project, go to www.economicsecurityproject.org.


Christina Greer Headshot thegrio.com

Christina Greer is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University – Lincoln Center (Manhattan) campus. Her research and teaching focus on American politics, black ethnic politics, urban politics, quantitative methods, Congress, New York City and New York State politics, campaigns and elections, and public opinion.

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