By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.
Last week, Mayor Brandon Scott announced a guaranteed annual income program for poor folks in Baltimore. The initiative, entitled the Baltimore Young Families Success Fund, is exciting and welcome news for a too little known nor long remembered segment of our city’s population: the poor, the low income, and the needy. Some poor folks work every day, some are looking for work and some have simply given up on job searching- officially designated as “discouraged workers”.
But Mayor Scott is paying attention and for that, he should be commended. Funds will only be offered to 200 families at this stage, and the requirements state that the program is exclusively for city resident participants that are parents between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. Each family will receive $1,000 a month for the next two years “to provide financial stability.” There are no strings attached to receiving the money–$12,000 a year for two years. One could change their life around with an additional annual income of $12,000- if spent wisely- even if only for two years.
These days, there are 60 American mayors in the guaranteed income program. The realization that attention must be paid to poor people and their generational poverty is heartening. Too few have too much and too many have nothing. Poverty in America was built before the nation’s founding with the free labor of enslavement, the deprivation of racial segregation, the disruption of family income with mass incarceration (the USA has the highest incarceration rate of persons of color in the world) and the mass poverty which has been stubbornly in place for the last 50 to 60 years.
There’s been limited upward mobility in the workplace, stagnant wages (while the income gap grows between the rich and the poor—the rich are getting richer) and poor people living a hand-to-mouth existence. This nation-built poverty and programs such as the guaranteed annual income programs are a way to begin the demolition of poverty.
Such poverty relief programs began in Stockton, Calif. in 2019 by former Mayor Michael D. Tubbs. It was the SEED Program, which stands for the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, that randomly selected 125 residents of Stockton who each received $500 a month for two years. Studies showed less income volatility (that is, drastic changes in available household money), better family physical, mental and emotional health and more abilities to find full-time jobs.
Tubbs once said, “Poverty is the biggest issue. Everything we deal with stems from that. There are so many people working incredibly hard, and if life happens, there’s no bottom.” His thoughts and wisdom can be found in an HBO special, “Stockton on My Mind.” He was a young, Black mayor unafraid to press for progressive ideas, who became mayor of Stockton by winning 70 percent of the vote against a Republican. He was a popular, energized, fundraising mayor but who lost his bid for re-election to a dishonest blogger who led the blame game for murders, house fires, etc., unrelentingly against Tubbs.
But Tubbs’s idea is still a great one, a forward-thinking one, and it is now an experiment being explored by mayors all around America. Mayor Scott is wise to try the guaranteed annual income program here in Baltimore. Scott is thinking about the poor increasingly: water bills based on income levels, permanent hotel acquisitions for the homeless and more and better job opportunities to become available.
If we want a better Baltimore, we must demolish poverty and reconstruct more wealth and better incomes for all.
With the funds from the guaranteed annual income program, folks could save some for a rainy day or folks could conceivably buy a car or a washer-dryer, put a down payment on a home purchase, and pay tuition for school or maybe even start a business. We can restore or ignite the ability of some poor people to use their own imagination for their own betterment.
Mayor Scott, this is a step in the right direction.
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