Some guaranteed income programs are ending, even as they gain popularity nationwide

In the wake of the economic crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities explored universal basic income programs to help those affected financially.

Guaranteed income was a lifesaver for one single Atlanta mother.

When the city of Atlanta launched the Income Mobility Program for Atlanta Community Transformation (IMPACT) last January, this Black 29-year-old mother of two, who requested anonymity, says she applied for the program the moment she heard about it.

 “Every day was a struggle,” said the young woman who earns about $18,000 a year working at a department store. “I have two kids. I work as much as I can, and it still wasn’t enough.” 

The IMPACT program provides $500 a month to qualified residents who are at least 18 years old and have an income that is up to 200% of the federal poverty line which was $13,590 in 2022. The young mother started getting payments last March and used the money for necessities like groceries, clothing and transportation. She’s even saved a little bit of money. 

At least 45 U.S. cities started some kind of guaranteed income pilot program in 2020 or a few years preceding.

“This has meant everything to us this past year,” she says.  

But she and hundreds of poor Black families are about to lose that small safety net.

Several guaranteed income pilot programs, including ones in Chicago and Atlanta, are scheduled to end this year, despite encouraging data that shows how important they’ve been. The mom in Atlanta is scheduled to receive her last payment in March. She has not heard anything about the city extending the program. Atlanta officials did not return phone calls about the future of the pilot.

In the wake of the economic crisis driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities explored universal basic income programs (or more appropriately guaranteed income plans) to help those affected financially. The programs provide cash payments to low-income families.

At least 45 cities in the country started some kind of guaranteed income pilot program in 2020 or a few years preceding. The number of programs increased in the pandemic’s wake. Generally, a lottery determines recipients from a pool of eligible applicants. Payments vary from $200 to $1,000 a month. Some cities issue bi-weekly payments.

“I was headed towards a deep depression, literally just a week prior to getting the call that I was accepted to the program,” Shamonique Jones, a Newark, New Jersey, resident told ABC News. Jones is a single mother who lives with her four children in a one-bedroom apartment. “I didn’t know how I was gonna get my kids’ uniforms [for school] … I was able to use that to get them their uniforms for school and be able to help us with the holidays and be able to provide Christmas presents for them. It just saved our lives.”

Tashonna, a 24-year-old Louisville woman, told the Courier-Journal that her monthly payment of $500 from the city’s guaranteed income program lightens her burden. “It gives you a really big cushion to just make those decisions. If I have $500, do I still need another job or is this enough for me?”

The pandemic disproportionately affected Black households, a number of which already survived in poverty. Before the outbreak, the unemployment rate for Black citizens in America was just over 6%. By the time COVID-19 hit, it exceeded 16%.  

Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a coalition that advocates for more cities to adopt guaranteed income programs, released a dataset that included demographic details and spending information on 20 pilot programs in America. Forty-one percent of the program participants were Black, and 77% of them were women.

Since many of these programs are pilots, they have an end date. Atlanta, which has the highest income inequality among the largest U.S. cities, started its guaranteed income program in early 2022. The Urban League of Greater Atlanta, which did not respond to requests for comment about the program’s future, distributed the funds. The program is scheduled to end this May. The Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot program ends in August. Participants get $500 a month. 

“I’m not sure what we’re going to do when we stop getting [these] payments,” the Atlanta mother said. I’m not looking forward to that.”

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