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Guaranteed income isn’t just asset building. It’s economic justice

4/6/23 by Liz Kaufman

72 Twin Cities community members got a boost of financial flexibility in January. With the launch of Rai$e, Wilder’s new guaranteed income program, each participant received a debit card that will be loaded with $500 each month for one year ($6,000 total) to use as they determine. This is the first cohort in an initiative that we hope will contribute to a nationwide movement to change how we collectively understand and address economic disenfranchisement and systemic inequities.

Rai$e participants are working towards financial stability and are enrolled in a Wilder program or with one of our partner organizations - Prepare + Prosper and Build Wealth MN. The program is designed to be accessible with minimal requirements.

People referred to the Rai$e program who are enrolled in public benefits receive counseling with a financial worker to learn whether their programs may be affected. Along with direct cash payments, they will have access to optional workshops and other resources to support their financial goals. Participants will help shape and contribute to the program by completing a few surveys throughout the year and sharing stories of how the money is changing conditions in their lives.

A Holistic Solidarity Model that Serves the Whole Family

Guaranteed income programs are based on the values of social justice and self-determination in a reparative context. They center the empowerment of racialized and marginalized low-income communities who have experienced economic exploitation, exclusion, and other inequities. These programs take an approach grounded in solidarity and human rights rather than charity, and are meant to supplement existing supports to help create a more effective social safety net. And, the impacts illustrate that the closer we move to our human needs being met, the more time and choice we have in our lives, which are determinants of financial and personal freedom.

Families participating in the first Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income program in Stockton, California, moved to full-time work at over twice the rate of those not involved. In February 2019, 28% of recipients had full-time employment. After a year, it was 40%, while the control group had a 5% increase over the same period (source). Participants in Wilder’s Direct Housing Assistance Program, another direct cash payment program, have started businesses, paid off debt, and bought homes. These examples show that when people have resources, they are able to gain stability and grow their opportunities.

Many social supports are designed to address one specific issue, such as education, access to food, and affordable housing. Because of the different eligibility requirements and separate management of these programs, they can be time-consuming and frustrating to maintain.

As an organization that works to understand systemic inequities and serve the community, it’s important that Wilder learns from and contributes to the growing body of research on direct cash payment programs. Guaranteed income isn't newit has existed for decades in countries around the world. There are currently over 100 pilots nationally, including in Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The data is growing and the impact powerfully shows that programs are most successful when they are informed and designed by the people they are intended to serve.

Emergent Learning

Rai$e participants will complete their first survey this spring, and we have also been informally hearing anecdotes, ideas, and feedback. The stories and data we collect will help us improve the program as we go, and we are excited to see what emerges. We are part of a network of guaranteed income pilots and will be sharing our learnings with practitioners around the country. Please stay tuned for updates as we adapt and grow with our community.

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