Minnesota donors give $ 1,000 per month to 15 people in one-year guaranteed income experiment

It had been years since Pamela Bidear had a regular income when she started receiving $ 1,000 per month in October 2020.

Bidear fled her native Cameroon in 2017 amid political unrest that left her husband dead. She traveled to Nigeria, Ecuador, Mexico, California and Texas before finding refuge in an asylum seekers shelter in the Twin Cities.

While the federal government agreed to hear his asylum claim, which offered him temporary permission to stay in the country, he came with no means to survive or a work permit.

By the time she was finally approved to work in April 2020, the pandemic had led employers to start laying off millions of workers. Still, she tried, taking a job selling knives through Cutco. It has proven to be an impossible task amid widespread blockages.

“I really couldn’t do anything,” said Bidear, who has a young son.

Bidear was then chosen to participate in Project Solid Ground, an experiment funded by philanthropists from Twin Cities. She and 14 others were given $ 1,000 a month to spend as they saw fit.

For Bidear, guaranteed income was transformational.

She used the money to save for a car and, most importantly, to pay for child care so that she could afford to work. She now has a full-time job – with benefits – helping coordinate COVID-19 testing sites and her own apartment in St. Paul.

“The money has helped me get to where I am right now,” Bidear said.

The idea of ​​providing Americans with unconditional cash payments has grown in popularity in recent years in response to growing inequality as jobs that once provided income for the middle class have been outsourced or replaced by machines. Interest has only increased since the start of the pandemic, with progressive lawmakers calling for monthly payments to all Americans.

Supporters of a guaranteed income, or a universal basic income, want the federal government to eventually provide monthly cash payments to all Americans. But cities and private donors have experimented with the idea of ​​showing unconditional cash is a more effective tool in tackling poverty than the country’s patchwork of aid that blows the poor up across circles. bureaucratic to pay for food, medical care, transport, shelter and heating. .

Twin Cities investor and philanthropist Nancy Somers, who helped fund Project Solid Ground, first became interested in the idea of ​​guaranteed income with Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign, which the signature was that the federal government should pay $ 1,000 per month to all American adults. .

When the pandemic hit Minnesota in March 2020, Somers decided to give it a try.

Twin Cities philanthropist Nancy Somers has helped fund a guaranteed annual income of $ 1,000 per month for 15 people (Photo by Max Nesterak / Minnesota Reformer).

“We are in the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis, and I look around thinking, even though there is not much I can do, I can do something,” Somers said.

Somers has rallied a group of donors, who have chosen to remain anonymous, to make monthly payments of $ 1,000 to 15 residents of Twin Cities.

They worked with Avivo, a nonprofit social service organization, which randomly selected people like Bidear who were enrolled in their mental health and addiction treatment, housing support, or job training programs. .

Each person received a debit card charged with $ 1,000 each month from October 2020 to September 2021. Debit cards allowed people to receive the funds even if they did not have a bank account and allowed Avivo to track what people were spending the money on.

A recipient used the money to pay a girl’s college tuition fee. Another paid off student loans. A third was able to pay for an Internet service in order to be able to find a job online. Another is in the process of buying a house.

The money mainly went to four things: food, clothing, medical care, and transportation.

“The idea that people living in poverty are going to make bad choices with a Universal Basic Income is just not accurate,” said Kelly Matter, CEO and President of Avivo.

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Now that the experiment is over, Bidear will miss the $ 1,000 per month. But she said she prepared for the end. She is being helped through other programs that will help her continue to pay child care costs and rent. She was also able to save money in an emergency.

Somers, the donor, did not meet with any of the recipients but received letters from them at the end of the pilot program. Some of them brought tears to his eyes, like the note from the person who gave the money for a month to a friend in need. This resonated with Somers, who is happy to donate money as a philanthropist.

“It was really heartwarming,” Somers said.

Project Solid Ground reproduces, on a very small scale, what has been demonstrated by other guaranteed income projects across the country.

The city of Stockton, Calif., Was the first to pilot a philanthropic-funded guaranteed income program, paying 125 families $ 500 a month for two years. A study of the program found that people who received the fund were more likely to find full-time jobs, be happy and stay healthy. Less than 1% of purchases tracked were consumed with tobacco or alcohol.

This inspired the mayor of Saint-Paul, Melvin Carter, to launch a guaranteed income pilot project in November 2020, the first to use public funds. It provides $ 500 per month to 150 low-income families for 18 months.

Minneapolis is now accepting applications from families to pilot a similar program starting in the spring, which will provide $ 500 per month to 200 households for two years.

Somers acknowledges that some of the money was probably spent in ways she wouldn’t approve of, but says she doesn’t want to be responsible for how people use the money.

“I want people to be able to make choices for themselves, and I trust people,” Somers said.

Somers was so pleased with the outcome that she plans to help fund another year of guaranteed income for millennials due to the economic disadvantages they suffered as they matured during a recession, often burdened with student loan debt. .

Ultimately, she wants the federal government to provide a basic income for all Americans. Since the start of the pandemic, the government has moved closer to providing regular, unconditional cash payments through a series of stimulus checks and a temporarily expanded child tax credit that sends most parents $ 250 or $ 300 per month per child, depending on the child’s age.

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” Somers said.

Max Nesterak is the associate editor of the Minnesota Reformer, a sister site to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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