Is Giving Away Cash the Best Way to Cut Poverty?

Guaranteed income has gone from a dream to reality in numerous pilot programs across the country.

Tia Cunningham and her family took part in Magnolia Mother's Trust. (Courtesy Photo / Springboard to Opportunities / Sarah Stripp)

Guaranteed income programs are spreading fast. One of them, designed by Black moms in Jackson, Mississippi, has become the longest-running guaranteed income pilot in the nation. Its example has a lot to teach about bringing Americans out of poverty. 

In this episode of the podcast, Next City executive director Lucas Grindley talks with the leader of Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which has served more than 230 Black mothers since 2018. The women are given $1,000 per month for 12 months, with no strings attached. One of the things that makes this program special is that it was designed by the mothers themselves.

“None of the women believed it was going to happen. And I mean, why should they? I didn't even know if it would happen,” says Aisha Nyandoro, executive director of Springboard to Opportunities, which runs the program. “But that's really the beauty of working in a community when you have trusted relationships — even if you don't know how something will happen, even if you don't know if something is possible, individuals will show up and dream with you.”

Over the course of this program, the moms have, collectively, paid off $10,000 in predatory debt. The ability of mothers to pay all their bills on time increased from 27% to 83%. The percentage of moms who had money saved for emergencies went from 40% to 88%. The number of moms who said they had enough money for food to feed their families went from 64% to 81%.

Also on this episode, Next City talks with Senior Economics Correspondent Oscar Perry Abello, who first reported on Magnolia Mother’s Trust, about what’s sending guaranteed income programs nationwide, and what it would take to go even further.

Listen to this episode below, or subscribe to Next City’s podcast on Apple and Spotify.

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