Supporting women helps create a fairer economy for the whole community.
That’s the idea behind the In Her Hands Guaranteed Income Program, an Atlanta-based organization that helps black women support themselves during times of financial insecurity.
In Her Hands offers unconditional payments averaging about $850 per month for two years to black women who are accepted into the program. To be eligible, women must be 18 or older, live in the former Fourth Ward, and earn 200% or less of the federal poverty level. That means less than $56,000 per year for a family of four.
Hope Wollensack is the director of the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund which funds In Her Hands.
She said they deliberately limited the program to black women.
“For the most part in our economy, it’s about black women whose work is both undervalued or unvalued in many ways,” Wollensack said.
“And so if we start with black women, we’re creating an economy that can work for everyone,” she said.
Felicia (whose last name has not been released for privacy reasons) is an early participant in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, a now gentrified area that borders the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood and home of birth of Martin Luther King Jr.
She is the mother of 10 children and has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years. She works as a private nurse and helps people find accommodation in her spare time. Felicia said she views the money she receives from the In Her Hands program as a way to help others in the community.
“[With the funding], I can help keep a roof over someone’s head for a night,” she said. “Because my family and I have been through this many times, someone has always reached out and helped us. That’s why I do what I do. We make sure that some people have a place to stay, even if it’s just one night to call it home.
The program is divided into two test groups. Participants in one group will receive payments of $850 for 24 months and the other will receive an initial payment of $4,300, then $700 per month for 23 months.
In Her Hands also connects participants to a variety of resources on job search, mental health, and education.
Felicia said that in her experience, empowerment is also a valuable resource.
“They come out for help and don’t know what to say or how to bring what they need,” she said. “Sometimes you can find out what you need to know and you just don’t have the information or the right communication or the right information to handle the situation”
Enrollment agents such as Kym White are there to ensure that participants have all the support they need to access the resources offered by In Her Hands and to answer any doubts they have about the program.
“This program is hardcore,” White said. “We will never come back to ask them anything because most things are difficult. TANF is difficult to obtain. Food stamps are hard to get. Daycare, everything is hard to get, so I just try to make it easy and smooth.
She said that in her experience with government aid, applicants can feel like a burden and it can discourage people from applying.
White said his registrants would not feel challenged.
“It’s not our money,” she said. “This money was raised to help these women, so I want to give it to you. I don’t want it to be difficult for you to receive something that was meant for you.
Wollensack said In Her Hands would not replace government assistance. Instead, the program fills the void created by traditional charities and government programs, which she says are limited.
“And especially because [they’re] built on a system of “We don’t really trust people to make the best decisions for themselves,” Wollensack said.
Cash payments offer participants the flexibility to cover their life’s expenses as they see fit.
Similar programs are popping up in major cities across the United States, but In Her Hands will be one of the few and potentially the first guaranteed income programs to focus outside of metropolitan areas.
Applications are now open to residents of Clay, Randolph, and Terrell counties in southwestern Georgia, with a third region coming soon.
This story comes to Reporter Newspapers/Atlanta Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.