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Cambridge to expand universal income program

"This will be the first of such programs that is able to provide the assistance to every family that is eligible.”

A study shows an enormous gap in the income between Cambridge residents with the highest income and those with the lowest.

To help close that gap, even just slightly, the city is expanding its universal income program. While Cambridge RISE currently sends out $500 monthly payments to 130 of the city’s lowest-income residents, the goal is to send out these payments to all families under the poverty limit.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui announced the expansion during her State of the City address last month.

“This is the exact type of initiative that makes us all proud of Cambridge: a unique, forward-thinking anti-poverty program that will hopefully serve as an example to cities everywhere,” the mayor said during her speech. “While there are now cities around the country that are piloting direct cash assistance programs, this will be the first of such programs that is able to provide the assistance to every family that is eligible.”


Siddiqui said the expanded program will be paid for with $22 million from the American Rescue Plan.

The program should be able to send payments to roughly 2,000 people each month, according to Jaquelina Dabo, project director for RISE. The goal is to launch it sometime next year.

“With this $500, there’s no strings attached,” Dabo told Boston.com in a recent interview. She said some programs have a job requirement or have other stipulations. As part of the Mayors For A Guaranteed Income, there aren’t any requirements.

Residents who receive the money have been using it on a variety of things.

“Many are using it to pay back loans,” Dabo said. “Many expressed having some breathing room month to month.”

Others are using it to buy things for their children, like sports equipment. Some have used the money on car repairs or to fix up their apartments. Some are able to save some of the money month to month.

“Individuals know best what to do with their money,” Dabo said. While some may be concerned that the money could go to things like alcohol, that hasn’t been the case, she added. “That’s not what we’re seeing. … They know best how to use their money. That’s why guaranteed income is so important.”


The pilot program is set to run for the next 18 months, its website says.

In the study, “Equity & Innovation Cities, The Case of Cambridge,” written by the Cambridge Community Foundation, the wealthiest Cambridge residents are said to make $343,000 on average annually while the city’s lowest-income residents make just $13,000 per year. The median income is $95,404. Rent costs twice as much in Cambridge as the median for innovation cities. Rent costs more than in many other cities – the median is higher than in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Portland, Oregon, the study found.


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