• A basic income pilot in Marin County is helping moms secure housing, buy food, and pay off debt. 
  • The pilot gave $1,000 a month to 125 low-income mothers of color.
  • A growing number of GBI pilots are targeting parents, aimed at reducing childhood poverty. 
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Basic income allowed Claudia Muralles to finish her undergraduate degree.

A resident of Marin County, California — located just north of San Francisco Bay — Muralles said she often struggled to afford basic necessities for herself and her young children. She had to decide which bills to pay and which to delay for the following month: car payments, gas, or utilities. For meals, she could rarely afford meat with her rice and beans.

That changed two years ago when Muralles began receiving $1,000 a month through MOMentum, a guaranteed basic income pilot serving low-income moms of color administered by UpTogether, a national nonprofit that has sponsored a series of GBI programs.

For Muralles’ family, basic income meant being able to pay bills and becoming more financially secure. With her new college degree, she feels “unstoppable” and optimistic about her future career.

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“To me, the empowerment that came through the funds had no price,” Muralles told UpTogether. “That sense of control over my money and sense I could do other things is priceless.”

First launched in 2021, the program selected 125 mothers with children under 18 to receive no-strings-attached cash for two years. Participants like Muralles had an average annual income of $29,000 — which is nearly equivalent to the federal poverty line for a family of four. A third-year extension provided families an additional $7,500, with the last payment in June.

After two years of receiving funds through MOMentum, participants’ housing stability improved by 15 percentage points, meaning those families were able to secure fixed and safe living conditions. Almost a quarter moved into new housing during the program. Over three-quarters of participants said their debt was more manageable, had enough food for their family, and spent more time with their children. Meanwhile, two-thirds of participants worked either the same or more hours.

The pilot was a $3 million initiative by the Marin Community Foundation and UpTogether. Like other basic income pilots, participants could spend the money wherever they needed it most, though this program specifically focused on low-income mothers.

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Marin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the US — the median family of four brings in about $186,600, according to Marin Housing. It is also one of the nation’s most racially disparate areas, per the local nonprofit Community Action Marin.

With basic income, families had more housing and food security

UpTogether reported that basic income positively impacted participants’ financial stability, well-being, and food and housing security.

Of the 125 participants, 24 moved into new housing situations, most in safer neighborhoods or with better amenities. The percentage of participants with housing stability rose from 45% to 60%, while the participants reported an 8% decline in homelessness.

The average home value in Marin County, per Zillow, is slightly over $1.5 million, while RentHop estimates the average one-bedroom apartment to rent is over $2,600 a month.

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The report found participants used funds to pay down debt and save for the future, such as attending college — nearly half reported being enrolled in an education or training program since the program’s start. They also reported less stress regarding unexpected expenses.

Since starting the program, a third of the participants have begun a new job, while 58% have maintained their work hours. Over two-thirds said the program led them to pursue different employment opportunities.

Participants also reported improved health outcomes, partly due to decreased financial stress. More than three-quarters of moms said they worried less about sufficiently feeding their family, and were able to buy more nutritious food items.

Participants were also more equipped to purchase things their kids wanted but weren’t essential. About 70% of participants spent more time with their families.

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Most participants didn’t lose access to government benefits, though the increased income may have contributed to some families losing specific benefits like like CalFresh, a state-level food assistance program that helps low-income residents purchase groceries.

More basic income programs are aimed at parents

Marin County’s pilot isn’t the only basic program to focus on low-income mothers.

It costs an average of $26,000 a year to raise one child in America. And, per United Way, infants and children living in poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness, food insecurity, and low-educational attainment later in life.

In Flint, Michigan, the Rx Kids program is offering about 1,200 pregnant mothers a $1,500 lump sum and then $500 monthly for their baby’s first year. A basic income program in New Mexico also gave $500 a month to mixed-citizenship status immigrant families with children.

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Some federal safety nets are also aimed at low-income parents. Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Child Tax Credit, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are programs that provide financial assistance or tax breaks to caregivers of young children. Flint even used TANF dollars to fund Rx Kids.

Local leaders and economic security experts are increasingly turning toward GBI as a poverty solution. Compared to federal safety nets like SNAP, Medicaid, or rental vouchers, basic income allows families more flexible spending.

UpTogether CEO Jesús Gerena said in a press release that Marin County chose the basic income model because participants “need cash, not another program.”

“The powerful results show that investing in moms and their children has big returns,” Gerena said, “Mothers know best and can be trusted to make the decisions that are best for their families.”

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Have you benefited from a guaranteed basic income program? Are you willing to share how you spent the money? Reach out to these reporters at [email protected] and [email protected]