PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The 110 Providence residents selected for a guaranteed income pilot program have received their first payment, Mayor Jorge Elorza announced Wednesday.
The one-year program was announced back in July as a way to research the concept of providing monthly, no-strings-attached $500 checks to low-income families. Unlike other support programs such as food stamps that require money be spent on specific types of items, there are no restrictions on how the recipients can spend their guaranteed income payments.
The first checks went out two weeks ago, Elorza said, after the 110 recipients were randomly selected out of 4,000 applicants. In order to be eligible, individuals had to live in Providence and have an income at 200% of the poverty level or below.
The median income of the recipients is just $913 a month, Elorza said, and 60% of the participants have children under 18.
Alyssa Perry, a single mom with two kids who said she works as a medical assistant, is one of the recipients. At a news conference Wednesday she said the first payment had already helped her when her car recently broke down.
“That money helped me get a rental until the dealership could refund me, and then that money could go to groceries and winter coats,” Perry said. She said after getting through the holiday season, she hopes to save future payments to go towards a down payment on a house, “so we don’t have to live in the projects anymore.”
“I feel so heard,” Perry said. “I’m more than just thankful, grateful, appreciative.”
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Elorza argued guaranteed income programs should be seriously considered as a way to combat child poverty.
“Poverty and economic instability are the results of systematic underinvestment in marginalized communities,” Elorza said. “It’s not a result of individual failures.”
The guaranteed income pilot program, run by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania, is aimed in part at conducting research on the effect of providing unconditional cash payments to families each month. There is also 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 for the effort, and other donations come from the United Way of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation, Providence Community Relief Fund and ONE Neighborhood Builders.
The year of direct cash payments total a combined $660,000 across all 110 recipients.
It’s not yet clear how the program could be expanded more broadly after the pilot, and Elorza has acknowledged it would likely require the state or federal government to get on board.
Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, said guaranteed income programs could help close the wealth gap.
“We’ve got millions, billions and trillions of dollars coming from Washington, D.C.,” Steinberg said. “We’ve got needs that have been exacerbated, that have grown, that have multiplied because of COVID. It’s wonderful to get infrastructure money to build roads and bridges. If you can’t afford the gas to drive the car, that doesn’t do you any good.”
Those participating in the pilot program were first given benefits counseling facilitated by the R.I. Department of Human Services to determine if the additional income would affect their ability to collect other benefits.
The counseling is now going to be expanded to all Rhode Islanders, Elorza said. Counselors at Amos House and Dorcas International, two nonprofit organizations, have been trained in Rhode Island’s public benefit programs, according to interim DHS Director Celia Blue.
DHS is funding the counseling program with a $100,000 grant to the two organizations.