International Institute is latest to organize guaranteed income pilot project for those in need

An experiment by the International Institute of Minnesota has started with a topic that is attracting national interest. How fast would families get on their feet if they were only given checks for $750 per month for a year, as opposed to just directing new migrants toward a hodgepodge of governmental services such as food and housing assistance?

In other words, how would they use the money if there were no limits on how to spend it, and how much would their lives be improved as a result?

In April, the institution started enrolling 25 immigrant families in its brand-new guaranteed income trial program, with around two-thirds of them being recent immigrants from Afghanistan.

According to Jane Graupman, executive director of the International Institute, a St. Paul-based organization, “we witnessed how the government reacted during the COVID-19 epidemic to assist keep people in their homes, and the effect it had in people’s lives.” It will make a significant impact.

The 12-month initiative is merely the most recent attempt to test the idea of guaranteed income in the Twin Cities and is fully funded by charity. Both the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis have started short-term initiatives for dozens of families each with the intention of demonstrating the effectiveness of such programs via academic study.

A second phase of the city’s “People’s Prosperity Pilot” guaranteed income project has just been announced by St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, co-chair of the national “Mayors for a Guaranteed Income” alliance. This phase is expected to begin in the autumn. The group, which currently includes at least 28 pilot programs nationwide, has gained the support of dozens of mayors.

In the initial round of St. Paul’s initiative, Andrea Coleman, a 41-year-old single mother of three small children, received $500 monthly checks for 18 months. When the program began in October 2020, Coleman had just given birth to her daughter, who is now 2 years old, and she had to prepare for her first Minnesota winter without wearing appropriate clothing.

She said, “I didn’t have any shoes back then. Coleman, who had moved from Gary, Indiana to St. Paul at the start of the epidemic to look after her aging parents, said, “I had Crocs. Since COVID was not present, I was able to purchase masks for the youngsters. They got presents and a Christmas tree thanks to the money I had. A significant change was made.

However, preliminary findings from a municipally-driven project in Stockton, California, among other cities, found that some working recipients used the funds to take time off from a low-wage job in order to interview for a higher-wage job, which could improve their quality of life and reduce their need for public assistance. Critics have questioned whether unrestricted dollars will be spent responsibly.

Other advantages have included psychological ones, such as recipients feeling less stressed now that they can finally save money for an emergency, and not putting off medical treatment any longer.

Coleman noted that skeptics “do see individuals like, ‘Oh, they’re going to go party with the money. “The knuckleheads, I’m going to guess, would do it 20 percent of the time.”

Such programs were inspired in part by the fact that the requirements of the poor are unique and diverse, and they may change from one month to the next from being able to afford a vehicle repair to purchasing a suit for a job interview.

“When individuals immigrate to the United States, there isn’t just one element that sets them apart from other people. It’s often a lot of things, Graupman said. “People are surviving in camps for 20 years, fleeing after a war, being tracked down—there are so many things we can’t conceive. After that, you get here and discover a whole different culture and environment.

The majority of the participants in our program are employed, but just because you’re employed doesn’t mean you can afford your rent, she said. Rent prices have increased, as has inflation overall, as is common knowledge.

Kalen Flynn, an assistant professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will monitor the outcomes of the International Institute program. In addition, Flynn serves as the center’s principal investigator at the University of Pennsylvania.

Flynn is also associated with an artists-focused guaranteed income program based in St. Paul. Beginning in April 2021, 25 artists in the Frogtown and Rondo communities received $500 in unlimited monthly sponsorship from Springboard for the Arts. Over the course of 18 months, monthly checks will be distributed, with 75% of the beneficiaries being persons of color.

In contrast to initiatives to provide universal income, guaranteed income programs are targeted and often means-tested to help disadvantaged communities, according to Flynn.

The guaranteed income was “actually utilized for a number of purposes, some that are unique to artists, like investing in their own art, displaying their art, or even traveling for their art,” Flynn added. Then there are the kind of issues that are more typical for guaranteed income initiatives, such as long-term planning and saving money for retirement or for rent, food, and other expenses.

They have the freedom to follow their own ideas since they aren’t constrained by grant requirements, she said. It challenges the exclusive practices of the art world to some degree. Not all art needs to be presented in a gallery. They have been allowed to exhibit in their own neighborhoods, which speaks to the distribution of art consumption.

The individuals she has spoken with have shown a higher feeling of stability and personal independence in both the refugee and artist communities. Early on, according to Flynn, “there was still a feeling that the bottom might drop out from under them, that the other shoe would drop.” “My vehicle practically spirals when it breaks down. How will I be able to finance the next event?

Kasey Wiedrich, manager of financial capabilities for the city of St. Paul, concurs with those conclusions. The “People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot” initiative of the city provided 150 St. Paul households with $500 monthly payments from October 2020 through this past April. Families that had already signed up for CollegeBound St. Paul, the mayor’s initiative to link newborns in the city with college savings accounts, were given preference.

The Center for Guaranteed Income Study is expected to provide research findings to the city the following year, but according to Wiedrich, participants have already reported “feeling like’my nose is now above water and I can breathe.'”

Many respondents mentioned caring for their young children or being able to pay for medical expenses, Wiedrich said. “Can my family visit the ER at 5 p.m. on a Friday, or do we have to put up with it? One participant discussed embarking on tasks that would have been too hazardous without a (financial) buffer, such as returning to school or beginning job training during the epidemic.

Others have spoken about taking advantage of routine family time and trips that seemed previously out of reach, “like buying cupcakes for a birthday celebration or going to the zoo,” she added.

The $500 checks offered a much-needed financial life raft for Felicia Henderson, 36, a single mother of four children who claimed her public assistance barely pays her rent after she lost her job at a hotel reception desk in the early months of the epidemic.

The Battle Creek area of St. Paul resident Henderson described the experience as “extremely, very terrifying, very stressful.” “(Public aid) didn’t cover diaper costs, infant expenses, or any other basic requirements. It provided some breathing space and kept us afloat.

333 families with newborns or young children will get $500 checks each month for two years as well as a one-time donation of $1,000 into a college savings account at Bremer Bank when the second phase of the St. Paul initiative opens, most likely this autumn. Without the monthly payouts, another 334 families will have $1,000 transferred into their kids’ Bremer college savings accounts.

The Center for Guaranteed Income Research will examine those families’ progress and compare it to that of 333 families whose “College Bound St. Paul” college savings accounts were established by the city with $50 but no further assistance or monthly benefit.

The McKnight Foundation and the Bush Foundation are supporting the Springboard for the Arts initiative, which has a similar structure to the guaranteed income pilot programs for artists in Long Beach, California, and San Francisco. The St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and unnamed donors all provided financing for the International Institute of Minnesota’s pilot program.

A $4 million government grant from the American Rescue Plan and $1 million each from the Bush Foundation and McKnight Foundation support the St. Paul initiative. Although no definite pledges have been made, more benefactors are thinking about contributing to College Bound St. Paul accounts, according to Wiedrich. She said that no ordinary municipal monies will be utilized for the initiative.

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