Guaranteed income experience gives hope to ex-prisoners

When Murray was released from prison in July, he had no source of income. The 54-year-old, whose last name is withheld because he fears for his safety, is no stranger to financial difficulties; he grew up poor in Gainesville, Florida, and resorted to stealing or shoplifting in the past.

“When you live with something in your life for so long, like criminal activity, you always have this nagging thought in your mind, ‘I know a way to get some money and it wouldn’t take me long to get it. ‘get,’ Murray says.

He was “depressed” after prison, he said, and was doing his best to rebuild his life, but money was hard to come by.

Struggling to maintain financial stability after incarceration is something many formerly incarcerated people face; 27% of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed and are 10 times more likely than the general population to be homeless, according to the nonprofit criminal justice research organization Prison Policy Initiative.

A new guaranteed income program in Gainesville aims to solve this problem.

Guaranteed income programs across the country provide direct cash payments to beneficiaries in order to address poverty or economic inequality. They can be targeted to a specific population or be universal.

Some critics say these initiatives need to be multifaceted to address the nuances of poverty. Others claim they will keep people out of work – although such claims have been debunked – or that they are too expensive to maintain.

This effort is a collaboration between the Just Income GNV Guaranteed Income pilot program and Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a national network of mayors and researchers leading such programs. They selected formerly incarcerated people who live in the city to receive $1,000 in January, followed by $600 a month for a year.

Their spending is monitored for research purposes, but recipients do not know how to spend their money.

A month after his first cash assistance check, Murray said he is already seeing the effects an extra monthly boost can have on his well-being and stability.

He is disabled and needs help walking, so he plans to use the money to buy a scooter and a car to help with transportation and mobility.

“It’s a relief, which is amazing. I can plan things now and guarantee that they will happen,” Murray said. “I was able to help some of my relatives with gas money and I had a few other relatives who were short on food and I was able to help with that. And so many good things that this program has really brought into my life.”

How it works

The program aims to address the cycle of financial inequality that often affects those impacted by the criminal justice system, particularly in Florida which, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, exceeds the overall incarceration rate in the United States. Florida has a rate of 795 people incarcerated per 100,000, compared to 664 in the United States as a whole.

Research has also shown that incarceration disproportionately creates a lasting impact on black and brown communities, as well as poor people.

When people are released from prison, they may face discrimination and barriers to economic opportunity, criminal fines, debt, fees and parole that can haunt them long after their sentence is over, according to Kevin Scott, the director of Just Income GNV who is also formerly incarcerated.

For some, the experience can bring them back into the criminal justice system.

According to the Brennan Center, when a person cannot/will not pay a fee or fine and cannot/will not attend a court date regarding costs, it could result in more jail time. or additional debt for her. for righteousness.

Researchers from the National Research Council’s Committee on Law and Justice have also found links between high incarceration rates and the criminalization of poverty through policy changes.

“I saw it so many times when I was in jail that guys were coming back to jail over and over again because they didn’t have enough money to stay on the streets and we as a society, we need a better system,” said David, 54, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. This is another formerly incarcerated man and Vietnam veteran who is receiving cash assistance.

David completed a 45-year sentence this summer and said the monthly income was a saving grace. He said there had been family emergencies that the money allowed him to manage, including getting his daughter out of a dangerous domestic situation.

“If that money hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened,” David said.

David said the money gave him the extra step he needed to successfully break out of a long prison sentence.

“It’s sad that it comes down to this because I have a lot of education under my belt for jobs,” David said. “But if you don’t have the first step or a little way to move…it all comes down to the almighty dollar.”

Expense tracking

Steady, the tech company and app that helps mayors for guaranteed income programs distribute money to recipients, said it can track what recipients are spending their funds through research and advocacy for this project.

Adam Roseman, CEO and co-founder of Steady, said it’s a harmful stereotype that low-income people spend their money irresponsibly or that people on guaranteed income may not have of financial knowledge with their funds.

The data the company has seen so far has refuted this, he says: “They spend the money on things that are important to their daily lives, food, housing, paying off debts, acquiring new skills through career programs.”

Cash assistance, according to Roseman and Sukhi Samra, the director of Mayors for Guaranteed Income, has been extremely helpful in getting people back on track – pointing to other forms of assistance like the federal tax credit for children.

“We’ve actually seen income increases as large as 40 or 50 percent for people who received emergency cash or universal basic income,” Roseman said. “You alleviate some of that major financial stress” that keeps them from solving bigger issues.

She says these types of programs have changed lives.

She says she has seen people escape abusive marriages, take care of their mental health and wellbeing, or offered them a lifeline during times of unemployment or given them the tools to find work .

The ultimate goal: “Federal policy. We invest in pilot projects like the one in Gainesville to build the evidence base for a guaranteed federal income,” Samra said.

David and Murray are busy making plans for their family and their future, now that they are relieved to know they won’t be looking for money to take care of themselves.

In honor of Murray’s mother’s upcoming 75th birthday celebration in March, he says he wants to give back now that he has the money to support himself.

He plans to prepare 100 bagged lunches and drinks for the homeless and for the community, knowing he was once where they were.

“I appreciate what’s happened in my life and I want to give back and I want to share and give hope to others,” Murray said.