YS Equity pilots guaranteed income program
- Published: November 18, 2022
What could you do with $300 a month for 24 months?
That’s what members of YS Equity, a subsidiary of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation, want to find out through their new Guaranteed Income program, which launched Friday, Nov. 11.
The News recently spoke with YS Equity members Angie Hsu and Len Kramer, two of the project’s managers, about the desired outcomes and history of guaranteed income projects in the U.S.
The idea is simple — 15 families who live in Yellow Springs or Miami Township will receive direct payments of $300 per month for two years. If the pilot program is successful, future cohorts will include 30 recipients. There are no prescribed ways the money has to be used, and recipients are not expected to pay the money back.
“It’s money in people’s pockets with no strings,” Kramer said.
Those wishing to apply, Hsu said, only have to meet three criteria — they must be 18 years or older, they must live in Yellow Springs or Miami Township and household earnings must fall at or below 300% of the Federal poverty threshold. For a household of four, that means a combined income of $83,250. That threshold would include people who make more money on paper, but have large expenses — housing, student loans and other monthly bills — that take up a large portion of that income.
“Between 40 to 50 percent of people in the U.S. would have difficulty covering an unexpected $400 expense,” Hsu said.
Hsu and Kramer described the project as a result of community conversations about race, equity and community needs after the death of George Floyd and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Community Foundation undertook an effort to reflect on how we were addressing diversity, equity and inclusion, [or DEI,] issues in our work,” Hsu said. “We know that some of the people in need are not being reached, because if you are only giving money out to nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status, that’s a major barrier.”
Those conversations resulted in the creation of a DEI fund through the Community Foundation. At the same time, Hsu said the fund was bolstered by a large private donation, a donation that was matched by the Community Foundation.
“So that gave us a huge push to do something significant with these funds,” Hsu said. Guaranteed income came up very, very quickly — in the first meeting — with a lot of receptiveness.”
“It’s where the streams came together,” Kramer said.
Iniatives like the Guaranteed Income program have become increasingly popular in cities throughout the U.S. since 2017, when the first programs were launched in Jackson, Mississippi, and Stockton, California. The Stockton effort gave 125 recipients $500 per month for a year, and reported that participants felt more financially stable, had more agency to make decisions about finances, and were able to look for better paying jobs.
“There was also an increase in employment, and physical and mental health changed for the better,” Kramer said.
YS Equity will join over 100 cities with similar programs as the first U.S. village to implement a guaranteed income.
“People are aware of inequality in this country,” Kramer said. “COVID-19, in this town and many other places, pointed out how close people are to the edge. A little upset puts their housing and food security in jeopardy.”
Outside of small community programs, Kramer said that people are seeing how cash in hand has helped families survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 36 million children and families received benefits from the 2021 Child Tax Credit.
“We even received American Rescue Plan Act dollars from the Greene County Commissioners,” Hsu said, referencing a $25,000 grant awarded to YS Equity to help pay for startup expenses, including paying the Center for Guaranteed Income for their studies and helping YS Equity become an independent organization.
There are several components of YS Equity that make it a unique program, Hsu and Kramer said. Given the size of the community, the proportional impact is much larger.
“According to census data, there’s about 330 families living in poverty in Yellow Springs,” Hsu said. “Since we are such a small program, 30 recipients covers about 10 percent of the eligible population.”
Another unique feature of YS Equity is that the program is privately funded and has the possibility of being funded in perpetuity through an endowment, a feature that garnered attention from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research, which, along with the Ohio State University, will support YS Equity by selecting participants through a lottery and conducting surveys, which are optional for recipients.
The application can be done online or on paper, Kramer said. There will be volunteers available for those who need assistance, and the process should take about 15 minutes. Part of that 15 minutes is an onboarding survey where potential recipients will give demographic information that partners from The Ohio State University will collect as part of their impact study for programs like YS Equity.
The application window will be open from Nov. 11–20; from there, applications will be considered, with more weight being given to applicants who fall below a lower income threshold and single-parent families. The lottery draw will happen in December and the first payments are expected to be distributed in January 2023.
“Our goal is to have our first payments out by Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Kramer said, reflecting on King’s 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” which cited guaranteed income as a way to eradicate poverty.
“It’s an idea that’s been talked about for 50, 60 years, maybe longer,” Kramer said. “But it’s gaining traction now.”
According to Hsu and Kramer, YS Equity has enough cash to fund two 15-member cohorts, with the second cohort being selected mid-2023.
“After that, we’ll get into this biannual rotation,” Hsu said. “If we meet our endowment.”
Meeting their fundraising goals, Kramer said, will allow YS Equity to double their cohort size to 30 participants every two years.
Asked about the experience of working on the project and looking into the future, Hsu said it has been “incredible.”
“To work on this project as a member of this community, it’s been nice to see how enthusiastic everybody is about showing up and taking care of one another,” she said. “There’s a certain passion and excitement about doing something that’s new and innovative, but also very much driven.”
Applications for the 2023 cohort are now open and close on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022.
Potential participants can find the application at ysequity.org/#apply. Donations to the program can be made by going to ysequity.org and clicking the “Donate” button.