JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s a one-of-a-kind pilot program to get women and children out of poverty and it is only happening in Jackson, Mississippi.
An extra one-thousand-dollars a month is given to single moms who live in federal housing.
There are no strings attached and the cash is only available for one year. Sound too good to be true, right? Did it work?
In a 3 On Your Side Investigation, we take a look at this guaranteed income and how it is changing lives.
Aisha Nyandoro is the Chief Executive Officer for Springboard to Opportunities in Jackson. She helped initiate the Magnolia Mother's Trust.
“We hear about the lack of opportunities for employment. We hear about the lack of opportunities for adequate childcare, the lack of opportunities for activities for your kids that you can actually afford," said Nyandoro.
Nyandoro says the goal of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust is to help families accomplish their dreams and goals while pivoting out of poverty.
Nyandoro said, “If we are looking at African American women in Mississippi by and large they are the most victimized as it relates to finances. We have the resources already. In this country we spend on our social safety net 150 billion dollars annually and families are still living in poverty, and families are still struggling. Families still don’t have the resources that they need. So maybe it’s time for us to really look at what it is we’re spending our resources on and can we align it differently.”
Twenty women were willing to take a gamble on improving their lives. The money is considered income, it must be reported and could result in a decrease in other benefits. They live in federally subsidized apartment complexes in Jackson.
They started on the program in December 2018. Most of them earn around 12-thousand-dollars a year. They are given an extra one-thousand-dollars a month. Doubling their income for one year.
“A lot of people thought that we were crazy, honestly, and others thought that it wouldn’t work”, said Nyandoro.
Some of the comments were heartbreaking.
Nyandoro said, “When we’re talking about low income individuals, unfortunately, because of the punitive aspect of our social safety net, we just don’t trust poor people. We believe that we have to dictate to them what it is they need.”
Nyandoro says the program was extremely successful.
“We’re seeing individuals move into homes already in less than a year. We’ve seen individuals pay off debt. Over ten-thousand-dollars worth of predatory debt has been paid back collectively by this group of women. All of these women now have savings accounts,” said, Nyandoro.
Not just the 20 mothers who participate, but savings accounts are also set up for their children.
“Research shows kids with as little as $500 in a Children’s Savings Account are four times more likely to not only go on to college, but to be successful in college as well. And so we wanted to make sure that we were supporting the kids, so we set all of them up with Children’s Savings Accounts,” Nyandoro explained.
Participants were chosen in a lottery. The next lottery is coming up in February.
Elsie McCoy, a working mother of two, says the program may sound unreal.
Elsie McCoy said, “It’s real. We got it every month, no strings attached. We got a W-2 form. When they said it was going to the bank, it was in the bank.”
McCoy says the guaranteed income helped take off some of the pressure many single moms deal with.
McCoy said, “My son’s in the band. Replacement of instruments being repaired. His band dues for the summer, so all of that. It helped me out to balance and not have to stress about where am I going to get this money from.”
McCoy works full-time and says the extra income came at just the right time.
McCoy said, “My heat went out in my car and I was like it’s no way me and my kids can drive. I had gotten just bogged down. I’m like, no. I’ve got to get me another car. At that time it came, just in time. So God moved it for me to get me another car.”
Now that the year is up, and McCoy is no longer receiving the extra money, I asked about how she's managing.
McCoy said, “It’s not coming now, so it’s a little bit of a struggle but I still can balance over. It’s showed me that I have to budget.”
This is not a program sponsored by tax dollars. So where does the money come from?
Nyandoro said, “This is not taxpayer money. We have worked really hard to do the fundraising that we need. So all of this is private philanthropy.”
Right now in Mississippi, the program is only available in Jackson. But Nyandoro hopes to expand it in the state.
Cities like Stockton, California, and Chicago are also looking at guaranteed income. Nyandora says Pivoting Out of Poverty has pitfalls, but the monthly cash has shed light on saving, budgeting and planning.
Nyandoro said, “They have had a year where they were not constantly worried about the other shoe dropping, and constantly worried about ‘okay, what is going to happen this month that could possibly uproot me? Not just for this month, but for the next six months or for the next year?’”
There are still doubters, but Nyandoro says the proof was gathered over the 12 months the cash was made available.
She says there will be more research and follow up, but she adds the results are shattering the assumptions about poverty and how families can break free.
Nyandoro says it took three years to get this program started and while some of the women did need a little guidance, for the most part, Nyandoro says no one from the program made choices for the participants.
Failure or success was all in their hands. The participants say though they no longer receive the cash they have more hope for the future and now see themselves Pivoting out of Poverty.
You can learn more about Springboard to Opportunities and Magnolia Mother’s Trust and their work in Jackson here.