Michelle Lockhart had to work two jobs as a teenager in Atlanta, as a camp counselor and a fast-food worker, to support her family.
She claimed that her mother became disabled at the time due to a brain tumor, but it took months of sifting through red tape to qualify for much-needed federal assistance.
650 Black women in Georgia, a demographic particularly hard hit by poverty, will receive some of that assistance in the early months of this year. Payments of $850 per month will be made over the next two years in one of the country’s largest guaranteed income experiments. Some $13 million initiative participants may receive lump sum payments totaling the same amount they would have received over two years. For the time being, the process of inviting and selecting participants is still in progress.
The program will run concurrently with Atlanta’s own basic income program, which will serve approximately 300 residents living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. According to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office, the initiative is currently working on making its first round of payments to the initial cohort of 25 participants.
Guaranteed income programs, such as these, have seen a resurgence in recent years, as efforts to address racial and economic equality and reduce poverty have increased. The scope can be either specific or broad. They have had some success, but some critics argue that in order to work and address the nuances of poverty, these initiatives must be multifaceted. Others argue that it will prevent people from working (though this claim has been debunked) or that it will be too expensive to maintain.
Lockhart, a community advocate and member of the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force, said many of her neighbors continue to face similar difficulties, despite working day and night to escape poverty. Despite working day and night to escape poverty, many of her neighbors continue to face similar difficulties.
According to recent research by the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force, black residents in Atlanta are four times more likely than white residents to be living below the federal poverty line, with 46 percent of Black households earning less than $25,000 per year.
According to the task force, 38 percent of Black women and 26 percent of Black men in the city are poor, compared to 8 percent of white women and 5 percent of white men in the same city.
According to Hope Wollensack, executive director of the Georgia Resilience & Opportunity Fund, the program is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing inequality.
“It will take a multifaceted approach – and probably a variety of policies – to even begin to address the racial wealth gap,” she said. “However, we do know that income stabilization can be a powerful tool not only for improving one’s material circumstances and improving quality of life and opportunities in the short term, but also for enabling individuals across the board to plan for the long term.”
The program, dubbed “In Her Hands,” was inspired by community members’ discussions and surveys about the causes of economic insecurity and wealth disparities in the city.
The Georgia Resilience & Opportunity Fund manages the project, which is a collaboration between the Atlanta City Council and the nonprofit cash assistance service GiveDirectly. It will begin in the Old Fourth Ward, the childhood neighborhood of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was a staunch supporter of universal basic income as a means of addressing racial wealth disparities.
Access to quality education, transportation, and higher-paying jobs, the burden of childcare, or predatory debt – factors like these, according to Wollensack, are more likely to burden communities of color.
Poverty and food insecurity can have an impact on a community’s physical and mental health, and are regarded as one of “the most serious and costly health problems,” according to the Food Research & Action Center, a national nonprofit research organization dedicated to poverty eradication.
According to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy, cash assistance and guaranteed income have been repeatedly shown to be a major force against poverty.