“I have real bills” – Baltimore Sun
Kayla Brown has struggled to keep a job since giving birth to her son last year because she can’t afford child care.
She once quit her job as a hospital food service worker to care for her one-year-old son, Antonio Barnwell.
Brown, a single mother, was thrilled to learn this summer that she was among 200 people selected for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s guaranteed income pilot program. The initiative, launched this year, helps young parents in financial difficulty.
Brown was chosen in the lottery and will receive $1,000 per month for up to two years. The first installment took place in August.
“I have real bills. I have to make sure I have a roof over my head,” said Brown, 23. “It was tough before the extra income – still a bit tough, but not too much now that I’m getting the payments.
Brown isn’t the only one to benefit from Baltimore’s program. Shakeema Johnson lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her 7-year-old daughter on Franklintown Road in West Baltimore.
Also a single mother, Johnson said she previously worked two jobs as a waiter and had no time to spend with her daughter, Jordyn. She added that she uses her monthly guaranteed income payments to help her with her car loan, rent and her daughter’s clothes, among other bills.
“I don’t want to worry about my bills,” Johnson, 22, said.
Scott is among over 100 mayors from across the country participating in the Mayors for Guaranteed Income initiative. He has worked with groups such as Maryland’s nonprofit CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Campaign, on the details. CASH manages the program.
“Every child deserves access to the resource they need, not just [to] survive but [to] thrive,” Scott said during a Guaranteed Income Program webinar in October. “We can’t just talk about fairness. We must put it into practice through strategic policies and programs. This includes investing in young parents and children by offering them financial assistance.
Participants in the pilot program must be parents living in the city of Baltimore, be between the ages of 18 and 24, and earn less than three times the federal poverty level, currently $18,310 for a family of two, according to health.gov.
This won’t be Baltimore’s only guaranteed income program. The city recently agreed to develop such a program to provide $250 a month to up to 100 raclette workers who will be unable to work in six main areas where the city announced Nov. 10 that it will will ban the practice from early next year.
Participants in the pilot program launched in August are 92% African American, 3% multiracial, 2% white, 2% Latino and 1% Asian, said Robin McKinney, co-founder and CEO of CASH. Most participants reside in areas with large black populations, such as East and West Baltimore.
She said that because monthly payments of $1,000 are below the $16,000 per year donation threshold set by the IRS, they are not subject to tax. Additionally, she said that while some participants lost other forms of government assistance, such as food stamps, when they joined the program, the new benefits more than made up the difference.
The program is funded by $4.8 million in US federal Bailout Act funds that the city received during the pandemic. The mayor’s office of stimulus programs must report bailout spending to the US Treasury Department. The mayor’s office said the program’s administration budget of $500,000 over three years is funded primarily by philanthropic partners and $100,000 from the Mayor’s Office for Child and Family Success.
The notion of guaranteed income can be polarizing, but it’s increasingly a topic of conversation among progressive political leaders.
A slim majority of Americans oppose it. A Pew Research Survey 2020 found 54% of American adults say they do not support a universal basic income of about $1,000 per month for all adult citizens, whether they work or not. However, 45% were in favor of such an idea.
“There is a long-standing perception that low-income residents, when they receive an influx of unearned money, will spend it counterproductively. …However, I think it [is] rooted in stereotypes, not realities,” said Eric Stokan, assistant professor of political science and affiliate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County School of Public Policy.
Some see guaranteed income as a mechanism to reduce poverty, Stokan said. For example, he said, Nobel Prize-winning economist Abhijit Banerjee, research has found that a basic income can alleviate many social problems, such as access to healthy food and health care and improving student achievement.
Other Jurisdictions – including Montgomery County; Newark, New Jersey; and Alexandria and Richmond in Virginia – have launched similar programs. The amounts these jurisdictions distributed per beneficiary ranged from $500 to over $1,000 per month.
In Montgomery County, 300 people are receiving $800 a month under its Guaranteed Income Program, which serves homeless and previous aid applicants, said Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando, a Democrat. .
Recipients are 53% black, 35% Latino, 5% white, 2% Asian, and the remainder are split between multiracial and other ethnicities. Payments have been flowing to them since this summer and will continue for two years, said Jawando, whose legislation created the program.
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All funding to date has come from county money, according to Jawando staff. The projected cost of the program is $6,836,000 with a $1.9 million appropriation from the council this year and $1 million from the Washington, DC-based nonprofit Meyer Foundation, according to its staff. The board also approved $2.5 million for 2023. An additional $1.2 million will be required to cover the projected cost.
“I thought it was the perfect time to launch a pilot like this – coming out of the pandemic amid the economic hardship that a lot of people were seeing,” he said.
For Brown, she said that around the time the Baltimore program began sending payments to her, she and her mother were forced to move out.
She now lives in the basement of a friend’s house in the Edmondson Village neighborhood of southwest Baltimore.
She started working this fall as a student assistant for Baltimore City Public Schools, earning about $500 a week. She pays $450 a month for rent, including utilities, and about $400 for storage.
She said payments from the program would primarily be used to care for her son.
“We would be homeless if [Scott] did not do this; a big thank you to the mayor,” she said.