July 19, 2024

NEWARK, NJ — When Shamonique Jones began receiving payments from Newark’s guaranteed income pilot program, there were two immediate thoughts when it came time to spend the money: her kids and her debts. But in every storm cloud lies a silver lining.
“What I thought was going to be the coldest winter ever turned out to be one of the best,” she said.
Jones is one of hundreds of Brick City residents taking part in the city’s massive social justice experiment, which kicked off in October 2021. Through the program, they receive payments on a bi-weekly and semi-annual basis, with half receiving $250 on a bi-weekly basis and the others getting $3,000 twice yearly. There are no strings attached to the “unconditional” payments, and no work requirement.
The money is coming from a mix of private and corporate donations, as well as public funds from the federal American Rescue Plan.
The experiment is a big one: 400 Newark residents were included in the initial research group and another 30 in a planning cohort.
In order to qualify, Newarkers had to be living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line or less, have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and be at least 18 years of age. The median household income of the selected participants? About $8,749.
The partner that runs the program, Newark-based MoCaFi, also offers credit-building and wealth-coaching services to its participants, who have a diverse range of backgrounds and reasons why they need the money.
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According to officials, the city’s program is slightly different from the concept of universal basic income, where every resident would get cash payments. Instead, guaranteed income targets specific communities and demographics – mainly people living below the poverty line.

Newark’s program, which has been dubbed the “Newark Movement for Economic Equity,” isn’t meant to replace other social services, only to supplement them. But in a city where nearly one in three residents live below the federal poverty line, and many can’t survive a simple $400 emergency, the cash is a much-needed source of financial relief, supporters say.
“Early data from the Newark Movement for Economic Equity confirms what we already know; too many of our residents are walking a financial tightrope,” Mayor Ras Baraka said, referring to a municipal program update released Wednesday (see below).
“Newark residents participating in our pilot purchased essential goods and services at a time of escalating prices,” Baraka said. “Most importantly, the funds provided them with the freedom to think bigger and make moves toward a more self-determined life.”
The program’s supporters point out that one of the nation’s most well-respected political icons, the late Martin Luther King Jr., said guaranteed income is one of the simplest and most effective solutions to poverty.
But not everyone is on board with the concept, or its close cousin, universal basic income. According to a 2018 report on the International Monetary Fund website:

There has been increased bipartisan support for guaranteed income programs since the coronavirus pandemic – possibly due to the federal government’s stimulus checks. But despite this growing interest, cash transfers are still a thorny political issue, nonprofit think tank New America reported in 2021:
This concern – that people in Newark’s program will spend their “free money” foolishly – was shared by some Patch readers in our previous articles.
“A windfall for drug dealers,” one person commented.
So what did people actually spend their newfound money on?
“The Guaranteed Income Program helped me pay off all of my preexisting debt, buy my four kids new uniforms, winter clothes and boots,” Jones said, echoing a story that many of the participants shared with city officials.
“The pandemic took so much from us socially and emotionally,” she added. “I was happy that my children were happy and my hope was restored.”
In an early data report that can be seen online, here’s where the money went, according to the Newark Movement for Economic Equity:
The reports from Jones and the other Newark residents taking part in the city’s experiment have been echoed in other guaranteed income programs.

A similar effort was recently tried out in Stockton, California, which offered $500 a month for 18 months to 125 low-income residents. Another initiative was launched in 2018 in Jackson, Mississippi, where $1,000 a month was given for a year to 20 Black women living in public housing. Many reported spending the money on crucial needs such as dental work, car repairs or paying off “predatory debt” and higher education costs.
Newark has shared its data with community leaders in other U.S. cities through the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income partnership, which helps to run a dashboard that displays the latest research from more than 20 pilot programs across the nation.
The dashboard also includes other stories from people who have been boosted by a guaranteed income program. Read them here.
In Newark, however, the proof is in the pudding, according to Kaleena Berryman, program manager of the Newark Movement for Economic Equity.
“All because of this guaranteed financial resource, residents in the pilot have been able to save money, move into better housing conditions, get caught up on bills left by COVID-19 unemployment, and think about going back to school,” Berryman said.
Catch up with some previous articles about guaranteed income in Newark below.

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