‘I was struggling to pay my utilities’: Massachusetts mayor wants to give every family below the poverty line $500 a month


In Cambridge, Massachusetts, every family living below the federal poverty level will soon receive a monthly payment of $ 500, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui announced this week, making the city the first in the country to expand cash assistance. to all locally impoverished households, their office. dit.

To qualify, a family must earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level per year, or $ 55,500 for a family of four, and live in the city of Cambridge. It was not immediately clear how many families would benefit, nor how the city would define a “family” in the context of the program. (Cambridge, a city of 118,000 and home to Harvard University, has a poverty rate of about 12%, slightly above the national rate of 11.4%). The program will use about $ 22 million in funds from the U.S. Rescue Plan Act and will help families for about a year and a half, Siddiqui said in his speech on the state of the city on Wednesday.

“While the details of the program are still being finalized, I look forward to working with our community partners to ensure the best possible implementation,” Siddiqui said, according to a transcript of his address that was published by the news site. East Massachusetts Wicked. Local. “We are confident that this appropriation will be a huge force in our recovery from the pandemic and in our efforts to address the inequalities that exist in Cambridge.”

Cambridge, like many cities across the country, has already tested some versions of direct cash assistance: last year, the Cambridge RISE (Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment) program began offering 500 dollars monthly to 130 single-caregiver families, without any commitment, for 18 years. months. Participants were randomly selected by the University of Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Income Research Center, according to the Cambridge RISE website. The program was funded by donors such as Harvard University, local businesses, philanthropic foundations and individuals.

Cambridge is not the only one to incorporate US Rescue Plan aid into a guaranteed income program, as cities recognize the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately burdened low-income households and people of color due to the widespread loss of jobs, the effects of the virus itself. , and the recent rise in inflation, has left some families in need of cash.

This week, Chicago opened applications for its Resilient Communities pilot, part of a larger initiative backed by the U.S. Rescue Plan and local bond financing, and received 90,000 applications from interested residents within 24 hours. . In the end, however, only 5,000 troubled families will receive $ 500 a month for a year.

“I want to change the lives of blacks and browns. Low-wage workers,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said of the program in February, according to WFLD, a Fox subsidiary in the city. “Because I come from that. That’s who I am. These are my people still.”

City-led lively guaranteed income programs emerged after the Stockton Demonstration for Economic Empowerment began giving 125 California residents $ 500 a month for 24 months to spend as they saw fit. , then-mayor Michael Tubbs, a cash-strapped evangelist, was behind the initiative.

Research into the impact of the first year of the Stockton program suggested that the money helped with unexpected expenses, debt payments, and overall stability, and the program was replicated in the U.S. in a variety of formats. Today, dozens of cities are participating in, or are actively pursuing, similar experiments through Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, an organization founded by Tubbs. (Tubbs lost to a Republican rival in the November 2020 election).

During Siddiqui’s speech on the state of the city this week, a participant in the Cambridge RISE program said that the driver of his city’s guaranteed income had helped him pay for transportation, childcare and education. while taking classes to become a nurse.

“I was struggling to pay for my utilities, struggling to pay my friends,” participant Porchia said, according to a mayoral statement. “When I was about to receive my first check, my lights had gone out.”

However, guaranteed income programs are not without thorns. Critics often fear that the programs are costly incentives that inspire people to work less, and only a third of Americans said they felt it was very important for the country to provide a universal basic income in a Pew Research Center survey. ‘last year.

However, research into an Alaska program that offers state residents an annual payment suggested that it did not significantly affect employment, other than to increase part-time work.



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