In this video, Magnolia Mother’s Trust beneficiary and Jackson, Mississippi-based mom Tamika describes how the guaranteed income program helped her family out. (Credit: Economic Security Project Youtube account)

Tamika, a mother of five and a longtime Jackson, Mississippi, resident, had just lost her job when the Magnolia Mother’s Trust came into her life.

The Trust is a guaranteed income program run by Springboard to Opportunities, a nonprofit serving families in poverty living in affordable-housing communities. It gives $1,000 per month – no strings attached – to 100 Black moms in the Jackson area selected by lottery, for one year.

And it made all the difference for Tamika, who says the funds helped her handle utilities and provide groceries for her family while finding a new job. Paying for both is an increasingly difficult prospect for all Americans, but especially Black women – a disproportionate amount of whom grapple with food insecurity while also struggling to pay bills and accrue savings, thanks to a racist, persistent pay gap, among myriad other inequities.

But because the Trust doesn’t mandate how the money must be spent, Tamika could also use it to cover more than the basics – such as buying coveted birthday gifts for her children. “I was able to get them something that they wanted, instead of getting them, y’know … what I felt they would be happy with,” she says. 

It speaks to the belief the program has in its beneficiaries, Tamika adds. With other financial assistance programs, “there’s always some kind of stipulation. I guess they think people are going to take advantage of it.”

Breaking that harmful narrative is nearly as critical to the Trust’s mission as the money itself, says Springboard to Opportunities founder Dr. Aisha Nyandoro. “When we started … we had to prove that we could give poor people money and trust them with it. We got lots of pushback.”

She adds, “No one is operating with any imagination. We need to change the narrative around how we talk about Black women in this country – specifically poor Black women.”

Addressing the Problem Head-On

Prior to launching the Trust in 2018, Springboard to Opportunities was solely action-driven, offering after-school programs, healthcare clinics and other such services. “Despite everything we were doing, we weren’t seeing success,” Nyandoro says. So the organization began asking moms one question: “What are we missing?”

It quickly became clear what these families needed more than anything else – dollars and cents. “It wasn’t people coming right out and saying, ‘We need money.’ It was complications in their lives that could be solved with more cash on hand,” Nyandoro says. For example, one mother wanted to attend community college, but couldn’t get there without a car.

Nyandoro and her team decided to take a more progressive, proactive approach – especially considering the many hurdles placed in the way of Jackson’s Black women and families. “In the South, we have some of the most regressive policies – on income, healthcare, childcare and access to services [including lack of access to abortion],” Nyandoro says. “And, Mississippi is the poorest state in the country.”

They decided on the guaranteed income program, which is funded by a mix of in-house fundraising efforts and a grant from the Economic Security Project, an advocacy group based in New York City, with donors such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Guaranteed income, as a concept, is viewed unfavorably by a majority of Americans. Opposition comes especially from Republican and right-leaning Americans – a 2020 Pew Research Center poll shows that 78% of them are against universal income programs. 

But here’s the thing: Research suggests that they do work. 

A 2020 study conducted by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that giving just $250 per month drastically reduces poverty among recipients. Other studies have pointed to a direct relationship between guaranteed income and improved health. Researchers from Columbia University found that infants from families who were given monthly financial boosts demonstrated accelerated brain growth and activity.

Organizers of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust have also seen positive effects firsthand. An internal study of how cohort alumni are faring revealed long-term benefits for moms and children.

Most have secured and maintained employment; many have been able to start and maintain savings accounts. The vast majority reported feeling more in-control of their lives, and more hopeful about their children’s futures. “Guaranteed income programs …  that are grounded in trust and dignity provide a model for the necessary support that mothers trapped in poverty need to thrive,” researchers concluded.

Other programs, like Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and Counties for a Guaranteed Income, both based in Stockton, California, are attempting something similar in other regions of the country. Just over 100 cities and just shy of 30 counties are participating so far. 

But Nyandoro has her sights set on national-level action, as problems of economic insecurity extend far beyond the borders of the Magnolia State. The national child poverty rate, for example, is presently at an all-time high, due to the loss of safeguards like the child tax credits implemented by former President Donald Trump during Covid lockdowns – from a rate of 5.2% in 2021, a record low, to 12.4% currently.

“We are going to continue this work as long as this work is necessary – until there is federal policy on guaranteed income,” she says. Whether it’s reform, or federal tax credits, “any pieces would be considered a win. There are millions of families who need support that only the federal government can provide.”

Until then, Nyandoro adds, “the future of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust is still being written – but its legacy is solidified.” ◼

(Featured Image Credit: William Fortunato, Pexels)