Local News

Cambridge expands program that gives $500 a month to low-income families

After a successful pilot in 2021, Cambridge is opening the program to thousands of eligible households.

Cambridge City Hall. David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Cambridge officials announced Tuesday that the city would widely expand a program that provides $500 monthly payments to families in need. 

The city is dedicating $22 million to fund Rise Up Cambridge, which began as a lottery-based pilot program in 2021 and now will be available to thousands of households. Applications will start being accepted on June 1, and eligible families will receive payments for 18 months. 

Lida Griffin, a single mother raising a 10-year-old and a three-year old, participated in the pilot program. At a recent press conference, Griffin described the experience of being laid off twice during the pandemic and struggling to provide for her children. She began receiving payments in September 2021, and used the money to pay for, among other things, mental health counseling, car repairs, and child care. 

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“I became more supportive to my friends and my family. I tried different activities and outings for the first time that I had never done before,” Griffin said, wiping away tears. “I gained confidence with myself that I am human and that I can support others and not [be] a burden.”

To be eligible, applicants must be Cambridge residents who make less than 250% of the Federal Poverty Line for their household size. Applicants must also have a child at or under 21 living at home. There are no citizenship or legal immigration requirements. However, households are not eligible for the program if an adult living there is attending full-time graduate school, pursuing a full-time professional degree, or is a PhD candidate. 

Families of four must earn less than $75,000 to be eligible. Earning thresholds for other household sizes can be found on the city’s website

 “With Rise Up, we’re building off the tremendous positive impact we saw from the Cambridge RISE pilot, which showed us how far $500 a month goes toward establishing financial stability for families and creating better outcomes for our kids,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said in a statement. “There is no better investment we can make as leaders than in our families.”

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The program is being funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. It makes Cambridge the first city in the country to implement a non-lottery, direct cash assistance program to all eligible families, according to officials. About 2,000 families, or 4% of all households in the city, are expected to be eligible. 

The pilot program served 130 single parent families in Cambridge. Now, the city says Rise Up will help support a wider array of vulnerable families struggling to pay their bills, access education opportunities, and take care of their health in the wake of the pandemic. 

“There is a deep dignity to giving people the choice and power to decide what they need,” City Manager Yi-An Huang said in a statement. “For some people, it will be education. For others, it will be childcare or housing or food or a night out to relax and celebrate life. We all have unique needs and expect to be able to make choices. This program trusts families to make their own decisions and that is the right thing to do.”

Some participants will be given the option of completing surveys and documenting their experiences so that city officials can learn about the program’s efficacy. Those participants are expected to be compensated for their extra efforts. 

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Initial payments will start being distributed on June 30. The money does not need to be reported as taxable income, and participants do not have to report how they spend it. 

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