Front and Center: Before a Guaranteed Income and the Child Tax Credit, “I Used To Have to Work Four or Five Jobs To Make Ends Meet”

Front and Center is a groundbreaking series of op-eds—published by Ms. and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—which aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level. The series highlights the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing.

What possibilities could open up for low-income families if financial survival weren’t always top of mind? What dreams would these mothers and families be able to pursue? What activism and community leadership might arise? The series will answer these and other questions, by placing one mother’s story front and center every other week. The first-person accounts in this series are available for reprint. Find additional guidelines at the end of this story.


I have two kids—one is in college, the other is five and in pre-K. I moved here to Jackson when my oldest was playing basketball and she wanted to be here to learn the basics.

I try really hard to make sure my kids know how loved they are, especially through the hard times. I want them to always know that I am here for them, and that I am always that person that they can come and talk to about anything. I try to spend as much quality and family time as possible with them, so we’ll go out of of town or out to eat every now and then—I just want to show them how it feels to be loved by their parent.

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(Art by Brandi Phipps)

I work at an elementary school as an office assistant—I handle the records, attendance, help with what the kids coming into the office. I just basically do whatever my office manager needs me to do. I’m proud that I’m a very reliable worker—whenever, whatever they need from me, I’m there. I like the job a lot because I’m around kids, and kids are my whole life. My mantra is: “If I can save one, I’m doing good. If I can save two, I’m doing a whole lot better.”

I like the job a lot because I’m around kids, and kids are my whole life. My mantra is: “If I can save one, I’m doing good. If I can save two, I’m doing a whole lot better.”

My dream is to have my own business as a counselor for kids. I want to have a place where kids who are experiencing problems can come and be and talk with other kids who are going through the same thing so that they know they’re not alone. Nowadays, I think a lot of kids have a hard time going to their parents or another adult when they’re having a problem. So I think it’s a lot easier for them to talk to people their own age with an adult moderating—that’s my future, I want to go back to school to get my counseling degree and be able to do that.

The thing stopping me from doing that right now is money. I was in school, but my financial aid ran out so now I have to pay for everything out of pocket, which is a lot. As a single parent, I have to make sure my kids’ needs are met before I can spend money on my education, but I absolutely will go back and get that degree in counseling. But once I finish my associate’s degree, I can reapply for financial aid, so that’s my plan once I have the money together.

My kids have big dreams, too. My little one wants to be a football player and be in a band. My daughter is currently in college with plans to become a surgeon. She wants to do sports medicine, but she’s getting a dual degree including biology in case being a doctor doesn’t work out, and then she can use her other degree to teach or have her own daycare.

Getting to be part of the Mother’s Trust this year did a lot for me and my family. There’s the financial part that’s so important, but it also helped me show up better for my kids.

I have to admit that I’m having a hard time finding hope right now. Our children are suffering because of life in general, but also because the pandemic has meant they are not getting the education they need. And we’re putting so much pressure on them with continuing testing and giving them big projects and expecting them to learn as well on a computer as they do one on one. It’s just a lot we’re putting on them.

But having the expanded child tax credit last year helped me out so much in taking care of my kids. I was able to afford my son’s school uniforms and supplies, and just to buy groceries. It helped with all the important stuff.

I really liked getting it monthly instead of once a year, since that let me apply it to my monthly bills. It’s also hard to know what you’re going to get when it’s once a year—my experience has been that if the IRS wants your money, they’ll take it. If they wanna give you some, they’ll do that. But you usually don’t know which one it will be until tax time, so getting the same amount of payments every month helped me have that consistency and something to rely on. 

And getting to be part of the Mother’s Trust this year did a lot for me and my family. There’s the financial part that’s so important, but it also helped me show up better for my kids. I don’t think I ever let them down before, but I used to have to work four or five jobs to make ends meet. Having the income coming in on top of my wages from work gave me more time to spend with them since I didn’t have to work extra hours to make sure they had what they needed. It just helped me build myself up—financially, mentally, emotionally—everything you need to really build yourself up.


Front and Center pieces are free to republish, under the following guidelines:

  • To ensure context isn’t lost, at the top of your reprint, include a line that reads: “Front and Center is a series of op-eds—published by Ms. magazine and created in partnership with the Magnolia Mother’s Trust—highlighting the success of Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust program, which this year will give $1,000 per month for 12 months to 100 families headed by Black women living in federally subsidized housing. The series aims to put front and center the voices of Black women who are affected most by the often-abstract policies currently debated at the national level.” (You can use editorial discretion to alter or shorten the text slightly.)
  • You may also republish the photographs included in this story.
  • If you share republished stories on social media, we’d appreciate being tagged in your posts. You can find Ms. on Twitter @MsMagazine, on Instagram @ms_magazine and on Facebook. Springboard to Opportunities is on Twitter @SpringboardToOp, on Instagram @springboard_to and on Facebook.

Have questions on the series? Read more here, and direct specific questions to Katie Fleischer at [email protected].

About

Erica has two kids and works at an elementary school. Her dream is to go back to school so she can open up a counseling center for kids.