Elorza announces pilot program to pay $500 a month to some city families


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced Tuesday a pilot program to provide $500 per month to a small number of families in the city, with the funding provided by outside philanthropists.

The 110 recipients will be randomly selected after submitting applications in August, according to the mayor’s office. Applicants must be Providence residents and at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, which is $25,760 for a single person or $53,000 for a family of four.

Residents who want to receive more information about applying can sign up for email updates here.

The guaranteed income pilot program is aimed in part at conducting research on the effect of providing unconditional cash payments to families each month, run by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania. There will also be a control group that does not receive the money, and both groups will be asked to participate in surveys, focus groups and interviews. (A stipend will be provided to the control group for participating.)

While the program was created by the city, no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund it, according to the Elorza administration. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has donated $500,000 to Providence, and other donations will come from the United Way of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation, Providence Community Relief Fund and ONE Neighborhood Builders, for a total of $1.1 million.

The year of direct cash payments total a combined $660,000 for all 110 recipients.

“The global pandemic has highlighted the inequities of our social safety net and exacerbated the disparities of health and wealth that exist for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” Elorza said. “The best way to protect the long-term health and well-being of our communities is by providing direct financial assistance to our residents and I am inspired to launch the Providence Guaranteed Income pilot program in hopes of encouraging policies aimed at reducing poverty at the municipal, state and federal level.”

Asked at a news conference Tuesday how he would measure the results, Elorza said he’ll look for improvements in mental and physical health outcomes among participants, and also whether it allows participants to attain full time jobs (the cost of childcare, for example, can be an impediment to full time employment.)

“This is not a handout, this is an investment,” Elorza said.

Offering the payments to a wider group of people after the pilot program would require more funds, which Elorza acknowledged has not been figured out. It’s unclear if city taxpayer funds would be used in the future, or if state and federal involvement would be required.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Elorza said.

The pilot is expected to start this fall, meaning it would wrap up near the end of Elorza’s term as mayor. He’s widely expected to run for governor next fall.

Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, said he hopes guaranteed income can become statewide policy in the future.

“This can’t just be a pilot program,” Mack said. “We know that when money is in the hands of people and they can make decisions based on their lives and their livelihoods and what’s best for their families, they succeed and they do better.”

Applicants selected for the program will receive benefits counseling to determine if receiving the payments will affect other income-based benefits they receive such as food stamps or social security benefits.

Elorza is one of more than 50 mayors across the country that have formed Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a group advocating for regular checks to be sent to citizens to provide a base income. No other Rhode Island mayors are members.

Dorsey donated $15 million to the group in December, and 25 different cities are doing pilot programs, according to the organization’s website.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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