It’s time to celebrate another year of the Front and Center series—a Ms. and Springboard to Opportunities’ Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT) collaboration that provides a national platform for low-income Black women in Jackson, Miss., to share their experiences receiving a guaranteed income.
Each MMT grantee receives $1,000 per month for a year, no strings attached. This year Ms. provided a glimpse into the lives of seven MMT moms: They spoke of their struggles, their children, their work, their relationships, their dreams for the future, and how a federal guaranteed income program, coupled with expanding the child tax credit (CTC), could change their lives.
MMT has provided hundreds of low-income moms with guaranteed income over their four cohorts, and the vast strides the recipients have made towards going back to school, paying their bills, starting small businesses and finding stable housing, demonstrate the power of unrestricted monthly payments. Giving women an economic safety net allows families to escape poverty and set themselves and their kids up for success—and the Front and Center essays prove that.
MMT’s success has also inspired a growing movement of guaranteed income advocates across the U.S. More and more cities are starting their own guaranteed income pilots to demonstrate the importance of monthly payments for low-income and otherwise marginalized communities.
But there’s much more work to do. The expanded CTC program that helped struggling families stay afloat in 2021 wasn’t renewed, and a federal guaranteed income policy is still a distant reality.
But guaranteed income isn’t just an abstract political concept—it has a very real impact on recipients and their families.
As guaranteed income continues to enter mainstream political conversations and media coverage, it’s important to center the voices of those most affected—like the MMT recipients highlighted below.
Amber: Guaranteed Income Helped Amber Be a Better ‘All-Around Support System’ for her Kids
Amber is a mother of two who works as a call center operator. She was part of the second round of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which started in March 2020. Receiving guaranteed income during the first year of the pandemic provided essential support to her family. She was able to afford consistent transportation, make plans to get a bachelor’s degree in finance, and invest in her baking side business.
Her essay also reveals the impact guaranteed income can have on the mental health of low-income families. Amber aims to be “an all-around support system for [my kids] in all aspects of their life, especially for their mental health because I think that’s a really important issue in the Black community. I want to make sure they are given the proper tools to protect their mental and physical health in order to progress in life.”
Erica: Before a Guaranteed Income and the Child Tax Credit, ‘I Used To Have to Work Four or Five Jobs To Make Ends Meet’
Mom of two Erica works at an elementary school and dreams of being a children’s counselor. The combination of the monthly CTC payments and guaranteed income in 2021 made it easier to afford groceries and school supplies.
But Erica also emphasized the broader benefits of receiving a guaranteed income. Instead of needing to work four or five jobs to make ends meet, she had more time to spend with her kids, providing the love and support they need, and helping her avoid burnout.
“It just helped me build myself up—financially, mentally, emotionally,” Erica wrote, “everything you need to really build yourself up.”
Kimberly: The Child Tax Credit and Guaranteed Income ‘Help Mothers Like Me Get Out of a Continuous Cycle of Poverty’
Single mom Kimberly scraped by after the expanded CTC payments ended last January. Even though she works for the state, providing for her two sons kept her in a “continuous cycle of poverty.”
Reflecting on the year of guaranteed income payments, Kimberly underscored the importance of monthly payments in helping families pay their bills. In addition to easing her financial burden, receiving guaranteed income was a beacon of hope that renewed her faith that things can always change for the better.
Jakheya: With Guaranteed Income, ‘Now I Can Cover My Bills and Do Fun Things for My Son’
Jakheya has endured housing instability, extreme poverty and losing a loved one to violence. After losing her job during the pandemic, guaranteed income was a lifeline at a critical time for her and her son. She struggled to fight her way through unnecessary bureaucracy and long waiting lines for subsidized housing, and knows the value that unrestricted payments bring.
Jakheya wants to ensure her son has a stable and comfortable childhood, and is given the opportunity to have fun and be a kid. She’s investing in both of their futures by making plans to become an RN. She is passionate about advocating for a federal guaranteed income program to help everyone experiencing poverty.
Yamiracle: Before Guaranteed Income and the Child Tax Credit, ‘Some Months I Would Fall Very Short’
Like Kimberly, vocational tech Yamiracle knows first hand how easy it is to slide into a cycle of poverty. Before COVID, she was studying to become a nurse, but when her school shut down she was left with $10,000 in student loans and no degree. She often fell short on bills and was forced to borrow money to get through the month and afford groceries and childcare.
In her op-ed, she fights back against flawed narratives that frame guaranteed income as discouraging work. Instead, she explains, the monthly payments help her cover emergencies, avoid debt, and transition to a higher-paying job to support her 4-year-old daughter.
Catrina: ‘Before the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I Was Working Seven Days a Week’
Catrina has a unique perspective on work and poverty. She has a criminal charge on her record, which has made it almost impossible to find a high-paying job. She currently works over 40 hours a week as a security guard, but the stress has affected her physical health, leading to medical bills and even more financial concerns.
But receiving MMT payments this year has had a measurable impact on her family. Her kids are noticeably happier and less stressed, and Catrina has been able to work fewer hours and improve her credit score. She’s also been able to keep up with inflation, and her dream of becoming a social worker is within reach for the first time. Catrina’s op-ed demonstrates how a national guaranteed income program could give struggling Americans a second chance to provide for their families and escape poverty.
Ashala: ‘We Should Have Daycares and Vouchers so People Can Actually Work’
After Ashala left her job as caretaker for the elderly to care for her own ailing grandmother, she wasn’t able to afford childcare, or even keep her lights on consistently. Because the state welfare system is so complex, she wasn’t able to make enough to live on without losing necessary benefits. Guaranteed income has made a huge difference to her entire family, especially with inflation increasing food and has prices drastically.
Ashala also wants to change the narrative around guaranteed income recipients. As she points out, guaranteed income and the CTC don’t increase unemployment; they enable moms to afford the transportation, childcare and food they need to be able to work.
“They need to actually listen to our stories,” she wrote. “People want to work, but things stop them from being able to. Who is going to watch the kids?”
Art design by Brandi Phipps for Ms. magazine.
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