Give Moms the Gift of Guaranteed Income

This newsletter is part of Times Opinion’s 2022 Giving Guide. Read more about the guide in a note from Opinion’s editor, Kathleen Kingsbury.

It’s been a particularly rough year for families in Jackson, Miss. A monthslong water crisis that began in August made day-to-day living stressful for parents, who’ve been worried about having enough clean water to bathe their babies and cook without making everyone sick. Schools had to revert to remote learning briefly because of the crisis, adding more stress and chaos for parents and children.

The crisis has faded from the headlines, but Springboard to Opportunities, a Jackson-based nonprofit that provides practical support to low-income Mississippians, is still there to help: The organization is delivering direct cash assistance to about 700 families affected by the water crisis, said Aisha Nyandoro, Springboard’s chief executive.

Specifically, the organization is giving $150 a month to lower-income families for a minimum of six months to help offset the cost of purchasing water. Even though the crisis is no longer officially an emergency, Jackson residents — understandably — don’t trust that the water is safe to drink because the city’s water system has been failing for years. “I don’t know any family actually drinking the water,” Nyandoro said.

This isn’t a new approach for Springboard: The organization has been directing cash payments to local families since 2018 through an initiative called Magnolia Mother’s Trust. It provides $1,000 a month for one year to lower-income Black moms who live in subsidized housing. The typical trust recipient has an income of around $11,000 a year and two or more kids, Nyandoro told me.

She said the initiative was generated by the families Springboard was working with. Many felt that they weren’t “moving the needle on poverty,” so she asked the moms: What would help you most? “Every story we heard was a story that could be resolved with cash,” Nyandoro said, whether that meant $25 to make sure a kid could go on to the next level of the science fair or money to repair a car so a mom didn’t have to rely on friends to get her to and from work every day.

So Nyandoro worked to get a cash assistance program up and running. “We launched with the bold idea that you can trust individuals with money, you can trust Black women with money, you can trust financially vulnerable Black women with money,” and they will do well by their families, she said.

Djunaita Johnson, who is a mother of two and was a Magnolia Mother’s Trust recipient in 2020, told me how excited she was when she got the call from Nyandoro letting her know she’d get help. Johnson is a substitute teacher and was put out of work when Jackson schools went remote in the spring of 2020, so assistance from the trust helped her to pay for rent and groceries. “It kept me afloat, because without it I would have been in trouble,” she said.

Springboard offered Johnson and her family additional help during the early Covid years, too, such as prepared food that she could pick up for her kids. This fall she started receiving $150 a month from Springboard to help with the cost of bottled water.

When Magnolia Mother’s Trust launched, it served around 20 mothers. This year, around 100 are participating. Nyandoro said her immediate Christmas wish is to get every mom off her wait list: That would mean giving that $1,000 monthly stipend to an additional 500 moms in 2023.

Her long-term goal is to see federal policy that provides direct cash assistance for parents who need it. That happened briefly in 2021, with the expanded child tax credit, which helped cut child poverty in the United States and gave parents some financial breathing room and more time with their children.

We’re not getting that in the near term, but what you can do right now is help the trust. At the end of the program, recipients said they felt more hopeful for themselves and their children, and more capable of meeting their own physical and emotional needs. Nyandoro said members of the community she works with show up “with joy, with their dreams, with their sense of humor,” and always find a silver lining, even when she’s not able to. Donating to the trust this holiday season and helping it reach its goals would be a true silver lining to a difficult year.

This newsletter is part of Times Opinion’s Giving Guide 2022. The author has no direct connection to the organizations mentioned. If you are interested in any organization mentioned in Opinion’s Giving Guide, please go directly to the organization’s website. Neither the authors nor The Times will be able to address queries about the groups or facilitate donations.

Want More?

In September, my colleague Farhad Manjoo mentioned the Magnolia Mother’s Trust in an article about “the quiet revolution of giving people money” and the growing conversation around ideas like universal basic income.

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