Will the cash payments lift SA families out of poverty?


Earlier this year, nearly $ 2,000 of extra money surfaced in the bank accounts of 1,000 low-income families in San Antonio. For the next two years, these families will receive a few hundred dollars more every quarter – a fraction of the first installment, but enough to pay some bills, increase their savings, fund a business idea, or do whatever they want to do .

That is the key: the money is freely available to them. And they will be able to ask each other for help – families also come together to talk about challenges, share resources, plan expenses, and find solutions to whatever life brings them.

This pilot is supported by the UpTogether technology platform and supported by the Family Independence Initiative (FII), an Oakland, California-based organization that runs projects like this across the country. The aim is to change the way government and philanthropy deal with poverty and adopt a so-called “strengths-based approach” – one where they invest in low-income families and trust them to achieve their own goals and together rising up.

No bureaucratic hurdles, just cash and community support.

There is something special about cash grants in America. The just passed COVID-19 Relief Act includes one-off payments for the vast majority of households in the country. The first aid package last spring also included one-time cash distributions.

Meanwhile, the political leaders of both major parties are proposing cash grants not as temporary aid, but as ongoing aid. Long before the pandemic, entrepreneur-turned-politician Andrew Yang anchored his presidential campaign with a proposal for a universal basic income of $ 1,000 a month, renamed the “Freedom Dividend”. On the same platform, he is now leading the mayor’s race in New York City.

In January, Utah Senator Mitt Romney introduced the Family Security Act, which provides monthly payments to almost all families with children.

On the spot, Mayor Ron Nirenberg signed up to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a collective of city guides that formed last June to signal support for the idea of ​​recurring payments for everyone – “a minimum income,” as it is sometimes called, under which no one in America can fall.

I am not writing here as an expert on these concepts or as an advocate for them – at least not yet. But I am curious and open-minded. Most of the time, I’m curious about new solutions that could thaw the frozen economic landscape in front of thousands of our neighbors in San Antonio.

You may or may not feel this in your own life, but many San Antonians know that we are in a gigantic battle against economic segregation and persistent poverty. Some neighborhoods enjoy the flow of abundant opportunity while others swim upstream against a legacy of neglect. We need new thinking and more experimentation to advance these challenges on behalf of our neighbors.

Along with some of my colleagues at the HE Butt Foundation, I had a front row seat at the launch of UpTogether and FII. Our President, David Rogers, was intrigued by FII a few years ago, and some of us traveled to Oakland to learn about the organization.

The FII leadership later visited San Antonio and met other local funders, city and county officials, and nonprofit leaders. Eventually enough of these leaders leaned in, invested funds, and agreed to let the process take its course. The fund backing this project is still just under $ 260,000, but we’re confident more backers will rise.

The amount of money we’re talking about for these households may not change their lives. But the overall experience – unlimited cash in regular installments, plus a technology platform to bring them together and expedite mutual support – can be. In fact, it has already been for families in the cities where FII has been operating for 15 years. Early studies showed families increased their incomes by 20 percent and their savings by more than 200 percent, and many were able to remove public health benefits such as housing vouchers under Section 8.

Now, in the next two years, we’ll see if the experience can be life-changing for enough households here – and what it teaches us about how to make that change happen for families across town. We owe it to our neighbors to try.

Patton Dodd is the Executive Director of Storytelling and Communication for the HE Butt Foundation.

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