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Pay Black women: Georgia program to be South’s largest in guaranteed income

A new program in Georgia designed for and by Black women could become the largest experiment in universal basic income in the South. 

In Her Hands is an initiative scheduled to launch in early 2022 that organizers say will provide more than $13 million in cash payments over the next two years to Black women in Atlanta and rural Georgia. 

“Black women are among the most likely groups to experience cash shortfalls that make covering basic needs difficult,” said Hope Wollensack, executive director of the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund, an Atlanta-based coalition focused on racial justice, in a statement. The GRO Fund is organizing In Her Hands along with the nonprofit GIveDirectly, which lets donors send money online directly to people living in poverty.  

Wide-reaching economic inequity for Black women “isn’t the result of poor choices,” Wollensack said. “It’s the result of pervasive economic insecurity that has the sharpest impacts on women and communities of color and the people who live at the intersection of the two.” 

In recent years, universal basic income (UBI) pilot programs have cropped up in cities around the nation. UBI is the idea that government could reduce poverty by giving cash payments to citizens with no strings attached. In Jackson, Miss., for example, the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities runs a UBI program called Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which has provided monthly $1,000 cash payouts to low-income Black mothers since 2018. 

In Her Hands, as planned, would be the largest UBI program in the South. Organizers say the program will provide unconditional cash transfers averaging $850 per month to 650 Black women who live near or below the federal poverty line in Georgia. It’s scheduled to begin in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood in early 2022 then to other predominantly Black suburban and rural areas in the state. 

“Georgia has some of the starkest economic insecurity and instability in the country, especially for Black and Brown women,” said Amir Farokhi, an Atlanta councilmember and co-chair of the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force, in a statement. In Her Hands and the GRO Fund emerged from the work of the task force. 

Atlanta has the highest level of income inequality of any major city in the continental United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black women in Georgia are twice as likely to be living in poverty as white women, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, and have been the hardest hit by pandemic unemployment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Community members in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward – a neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up and later preached about guaranteed income – helped design the In Her Hands program.  

“From our values to program design,” Farokhi said, “this work is first and foremost about people’s expertise in their own lives and their agency, dignity, stability and potential.” 

UBI programs like In Her Hands have been held up by proponents as potential solutions to pervasive, longstanding wealth disparities. For example, a typical white family in the United States has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family, according to data collected by the Federal Reserve. In 2019, Black households held a median wealth of $24,100, compared to median white household wealth of $188,200. Black households account for 13% of the U.S. population but hold just 4% of total household wealth. 

In Her Hands will operate through the GiveDirectly platform, which allows anyone to send money directly to people living in poverty via its online portal. 

Sarah Moran, U.S. Country Director for GiveDirectly, said in a statement she believes the In Her Hands project will contribute “significantly to the growing body of research around the benefits of cash and a guaranteed income, particularly to populations that have been marginalized and underinvested in for generations.” 

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