Cambridge is launching a guaranteed income pilot program for single caretaker households

“We need a financial vaccine for Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents.”

Cambridge-02/13/2021The Margaret Fuller House food bank distributed food to those in need Saturday at their location near the Newtowne Court and Washington Elms housing development which provides housing to low income people. Worker Christopher Davis(left) helps a client with their food as they walk by a mural on the side of the Fuller House on the way to a waiting car. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (metro)
The Margaret Fuller House food bank in Cambridge distributed food to those in need in February. –John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe, File

The City of Cambridge is launching a pilot program that will give guaranteed income to single caretaker households with children under the age of 18 starting in August. 

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui announced the program Thursday, which she spear-headed along with Vice-Mayor Alanna Mallon, Councillor Marc McGovern, and a consortium of nonprofit partners in the city.

The project, Cambridge RISE (Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment), will offer no-strings-attached monthly payments of $500 to 120 eligible single caretaker households for the 18-month pilot. The participants will be chosen through a lottery.

“We know single caretaker families in Cambridge are struggling, are well below the Cambridge poverty line, and the impact to single mothers and women of color are even higher,” Siddiqui said in a statement. “We need a financial vaccine for Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents. … As we’ve seen in pilot projects across the country, we anticipate this investment in our pilot group will have significant positive impacts in the overall health and wellbeing and employment outcomes of these residents.”

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Last November, Chelsea announced its own program for no-strings monthly payments to about 2,000 low-income families.

Participants in the Cambridge pilot program will receive the monthly payments through a debit card. To be eligible for participation, the household must be headed by a single caretaker earning 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) with children under the age of 18. The bulk of the participants will be under 50 percent of AMI, according to the city.

One out of every 10 families with children under the age of 18 live under the poverty line in Cambridge, according to the city. For female-headed households, that number is one in three. Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic Cambridge residents are twice as likely to live below the poverty line. 

The vice mayor said in a statement that being raised by a single mother, she knows the pilot will be “transformative” for the city’s low-income residents. About 20 percent of Cambridge’s population earns an average of $13,000 a year, according to the Cambridge Community Foundation. For the families with children in that income group, about 70 percent of the households are led by a single caretaker.

A family of three with an annual income of $21,960 is considered below the federal poverty level

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“The emotional and financial stress of continually living paycheck to paycheck perpetuates the generational cycle of poverty,” Mallon said. “By giving single caretakers a little extra breathing room each month, we’re emboldening them to go back to school, take time off work to interview for a higher-paying job, save for a rainy day, and get on a path towards long-term, upward economic mobility.”

The pilot is being fully funded by donations from community partners, with the “major” support coming from the Cambridge Community Foundation. The guaranteed income project is also being supported by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and The Boston Foundation.

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