They Gave Black Mothers in Mississippi $1,000 a Month. It Changed Their Lives.

Tamara Ware is used to getting calls offering financial advice from her community specialist, a social worker of sorts at Springboard to Opportunities, a nonprofit that provides support to the residents of the affordable housing complex where she lives in Jackson, Mississippi, with her three daughters. But one day in February 2020 she got a call that would change her life. The woman on the other end told her she had been selected to be part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a guaranteed income pilot that gives Black mothers like her $1,000 a month for a year, no strings attached. Weeks earlier, Ware had completed the paperwork to be considered for the program and written “please pick me” on the margins, but still assumed she’d never hear back. “It was like a one in a million chance,” she said. “I never get anything, I don’t win anything.”

Ware’s community specialist is “sassy,” she said, which is why they get along. But it was also why Ware assumed she was joking when she said Ware was selected. It was no joke. When she realized the truth, Ware said, she screamed. When the pandemic began, she had decided to leave her job to protect her youngest daughter, who has asthma. The Magnolia Mother’s Trust money came “right on time,” she said.

The Magnolia Mother’s Trust is the longest-running basic income experiment since the Nixon era, and is among the first to try out the idea on a city level. But unlike recent programs in Stockton, California, or Newark, New Jersey, which select from a wider pool, it’s targeted at only Black mothers, acting in some ways like a child allowance. Most other developed countries have implemented a child allowance, but the United States has been an outlier, at least until pandemic politics offered an opportunity earlier this year. Biden’s Covid economic recovery bill, which Congress passed in March, has for the first time expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC) so that money is sent each month to all families up to a certain income level. Over 90 percent of families with children will receive as much as $300 a month for every child under age six and $250 for older ones. It’s an idea that started with Democrats, but some Republicans have warmed to it; Senator Mitt Romney released his own proposal for monthly direct payments for parents earlier this year.

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