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New guaranteed income experiments inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.

Muhammad Yungai’s mural ‘We Shall Always March Ahead’ is displayed next to the Privado Grooming Barbershop in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood.

Raymond Boyd | Michael Ochs Archive | Getty Images

The legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up preaching at Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta.

Soon, that neighborhood will also be the site of a new experiment with guaranteed income, named in his honor.

The program is intended to provide more than $ 13 million in transfers over the next two years to 650 black women in that neighborhood and other suburbs and rural areas of Georgia.

Its name – In Her Hands – was inspired by a King quote.

In a 1967 speech, “Where do we go from here?” given in Atlanta, King said: “The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and secure, and when he knows he has the means to seek self-improvement. “

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In Her Hands is the result of a task force that includes community leaders, including Pastor John Vaughn, executive pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King once served as co-pastor with his father and where his funeral was held after his April assassination. 1968.

When the task force was formed two years ago, it was not clear that guaranteed income would be a recommendation from the participating community leaders, said Hope Wollensack, executive director of the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity (GRO) Fund, which has merged with the nonprofit GiveDirectly to launch the initiative.

Since then, however, monthly child tax deductions and stimulus checks have helped change the conversation about direct income, Wollensack said. In addition, the Task Force’s recommendation was clear on the potential benefit of this type of financial assistance.

“It’s not just putting cash in the hands of women, but greater freedom of action and choice in the hands of women and their families,” Wollensack said.

Guaranteed income programs inspired by King’s legacy are growing.

Mayors for a Guaranteed Income have more than 60 participating cities around the country. It was founded in 2020 by Michael Tubbs, then mayor of Stockton, who launched the first program in that city.

Separate guaranteed income programs have also been established to specifically target mothers, including the Magnolia Mother’s Trust in Jackson, Mississippi, and most recently the Bridge Project in New York City.

Magnolia Mother’s Trust is the only program that includes only low-income black mothers. It provides $ 1,000 a month for 12 months to women living in federally subsidized housing in Jackson.

Results after the second cohort of recipients showed that mothers’ ability to pay their bills on time increased to 83% from 27%; those in emergency savings rose to 88% from 40%; and their ability to pay for food increased to 81% from 64%.

After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been released from prison under a $ 2,000 appeal guarantee, he is met by his wife Coretta and children, Marty and Yoki, at Chamblee Airport, Georgia.

Bettmann | Bettmann | Getty Images

Georgia’s new In Her Hands program plans to provide guaranteed income specifically to black women and study how money affects their lives.

Half of the program’s 650 participants are expected to receive a prior lump sum of $ 4,300 and then $ 700 per month for 23 months. The other half will receive $ 850 a month for 24 months.

The program starts in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood and then expands to other predominantly black suburbs and rural areas of Georgia.

The first payments are scheduled to be made in the second quarter.

The distribution of the money will be handled by GiveDirectly, which has provided cash to recipients in programs in the United States and other countries. The non-profit organization is currently running the world’s largest universal basic income experiment in Kenya.

When people have recurring payments that are guaranteed, they will use it to reduce income volatility month to month.

Sarah Moran

U.S. Country Director for GiveDirectly

“Our research supports the fact that when people have large lump sums, they will use it to build assets or reduce debt,” said Sarah Moran, U.S. Country Director for GiveDirectly.

“Once people have recurring payments that are guaranteed, they will use it to reduce income volatility month on month,” Moran said.

Erica Brown, 41, of Jackson, has been receiving monthly checks through the Magnolia Mother’s Trust since April last year, saying the monthly income has been a blessing. The extra money allowed her to quit her second job as a security officer at a hospital, giving more time with her children of 20 and 5 years. She has also been able to pay all of her bills and build up savings that she expects will still be there when the program ends.

A key measure of success for the In Her Hands program will be whether it helps alleviate poverty for black women in Georgia.

Black women in the state are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white women, according to a 2019 report from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Yet black women have participated in the state workforce at higher rates than white women for centuries because of slave labor and sharecropping, according to research.

Efforts are high as the In Her Hands program both helps change the hereditary poverty problems black women face and lives up to King’s legacy of fighting for justice, Wollensack said.

“I think in many ways it really felt like Dr. King was watching,” Wollensack said. “What choices are we going to make, and who are they going to be, and how are we going to live up to our values?”

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