Fifteen black mothers living in subsidized housing in Jackson will receive $1,000 in no-strings-attached cash every month for the next year.
The pilot project, mirroring other basic income experiments across the nation and world, aims to show what happens in families when parents are no longer “constantly having to operate in survival mode,” said Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard to Opportunity, the nonprofit spearheading the effort.
The initiative, dubbed Magnolia Mother’s Trust, is the first of its kind focused on low-income black mothers. Springboard, a Jackson-based group that assists families in affordable housing, partnered with Economic Security Project and other out-of-state private donors to fund the project.
Nyandoro said the idea arose from talking with her clients, who make an average of $11,030 annually, about their needs.
With some disposable income, one woman told Nyandoro she would have the money her daughter needs to enter a science competition.
“Women are going to use the money on day-to-day things we take for granted,” Nyandoro said.
Magnolia Mother’s Trust will choose the women using a lottery system in November and the pilot will begin in December.
Last year, Springboard and Washington, D.C.,-based policy research group New America published a report titled, “Becoming Visible,” looking at public assistance in Mississippi. The report concluded that the services Mississippi offers are among the “most meager and least accessible” in the nation.
In Mississippi, just 5,682 low-income families received benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the program sometimes derided as welfare, in 2016, even though one-in-five Mississippians live in poverty.
Mississippi’s monthly benefit for those who receive basic assistance is $170, compared to $442 nationally. In 2016, just 1.4 percent of new applicants for welfare were approved. The state has strict employment and drug testing requirements for TANF.
Researchers found that in some instances, the hoops applicants must jump through discourage people who would otherwise qualify for services from even applying.
“A minimum wage job simply does not provide enough income to support a family, and the system for obtaining supplementary benefits is stressful, dehumanizing, and time-consuming,” Magnolia Mother’s Trust’s website says.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, also comes with a work requirement in Mississippi and the state is attempting to add a work requirement for beneficiaries of Medicaid, a health insurance program for the extremely poor.
The universal basic income model also challenges society’s reliance on traditional employment, as wages in the U.S. have remained stagnant despite increases in productivity.
“We need to broaden our definition of employment. I don’t think employment includes the work women do in the home every single day,” Nyandoro said.
When a home health care worker or child care provider takes care of strangers, it’s considered work, Nyandoro pointed out, but not if they’re caring for their own child or ailing parent.
The three months Nyandoro spent recently on maternity leave after having a child, she added, was some of the hardest work she’s experienced.
“We don’t give folks enough credit,” she said.