A Year of Guaranteed Income Means ‘Freedom’ for This Single Mom and Her Son

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 (MMT), 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.

My name is Louneda, I’m 33 years old and I live in Jackson, Mississippi.

I have a 4-year-old son. His father and I are cordial. He recently moved back to Mexico after living here for about 30 years. He started to get sick and wanted to go back home. We speak everyday via Facebook Messenger and one of my goals while in the program is to take our son on a trip there to visit him. His father is really looking forward to seeing him and having him get to know his side of the family. My son and I have never been outside of the country, this will be our first time.

My mom lives in Canton (just north of Jackson) and I have two sisters. I’m the baby.

I’ve never had a relationship with my father. When I was younger it didn’t bother me that I didn’t know him, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve wanted to know more. My mom and I are just now starting to talk about who he was now that he’s died. She met him under tough circumstances and so it hasn’t been something she’s wanted to revisit, but she’s starting to open up about it. I want to be able to meet his side of the family and understand more about who I am and where I come from. 

I’m currently looking for work, and if I could have any job I would work in human resources or recruiting. I’d like to help other people achieve employment. I have experience in a lot of different areas: call centers, office and administrative work, warehouse and kitchen work. I’m not scared to work! It just feels like I apply and apply and never get hit back.

When my son’s father was here, he supported us while I took care of our child. I was fully dependent on him and made do with whatever he gave me and made it work. I never lived outside my means or generated any credit card debt. Prior to meeting him, I kept a steady job. Now that he’s gone, I’m looking forward to being more dependent on myself. I just worry that the four-year gap in employment from caring for my son on my resume is why I’m not getting responses. 

(Photo courtesy of Springboard to Opportunities; art by Brandi Phipps)

One thing that could still make a huge difference in my life is completing college. I’d like to get my associate’s degree or my career certificate. I’d like to finish my elementary education program. 

Before starting Magnolia Mother’s Trust, my biggest monthly expense was energy. It still is! I’ve tried all the different ways to decrease my bill and it’s still through the roof! It’s almost $200 to $300 every month—like the price of half of a house note—and it’s just my son and me!

The cost of groceries is outrageous too—eggs, milk, all of it. Even with the amount I get with my SNAP benefits, I still end up having to pay cash for groceries by the end of the month. Mississippi opted out of the summer EBT program to provide food to kids and even though they are still offering some food services, you have to travel to specific places to get it. And with the price of gas, you might as well stop and get your child something to eat before driving all the way out there. 

(Editor’s note: This year, 15 states opted out of a program that would have provided each eligible family with $40 per month per child during the summer to help cover the additional costs of food. For a mother working full-time at minimum wage—approximately $1,160 each month—that $40 could make a huge difference.)

The whole system is just so frustrating. I just had a breach in my SNAP assistance and I tried to appeal and recertify but my case worker could not or did not want to help me. I had to show up there and be diligent. It makes your head hurt. They need to put themselves in other people’s shoes. What if it was you in this situation? What if you had a child to feed and you had to wait at home for a call that never came? 

The worst experience I had was getting on TANF, doing volunteer work for them, and then finding out that they were shorting me on my full benefits. I was only receiving funds for one person instead of for both my son and me. And when I talked with my caseworker about it she did not respond well. It was such a bad experience I never reapplied.

(Editor’s note: Mississippi leaders are involved in a corruption scandal in which tens of millions in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, funds meant for poor residents were instead diverted to pro-athletes and elected officials.)

The whole system is just so frustrating. … What if you had a child to feed and you had to wait at home for a call that never came? 

When I was selected for Magnolia Mother’s Trust, I felt proud. Like I had achieved something for my son to make him happy. It brought me out of a dark space and made me smile, it made my heart smile. 

Politicians who think programs like MMT shouldn’t be expanded because it will stop families from working are ignorant to the fact that programs like this make us want to work more! To know we will have a guaranteed income and still be able to work without stipulation is motivating. Once I get a job, I will be crushing it! I will be going to work knowing that I can save more and be able to do more for my child. 

MMT has made such a difference for me. I used to get depressed or sad that my baby was wearing the same clothes all the time, and now I’m able to do a little more shopping for him and buy him new stuff. I’ve been able to treat him more, versus just on birthdays. It feels good to be able to provide for him and take him to Chuck E. Cheese and give him tokens to play games with. I’m able to reward him when he achieves something. He comes home every day and has toys to play with, his Spiderman or Batman or little treasure chest, or his new power truck. When my child is happy, I’m happy. 

MMT has given me more freedom. Freedom of mind, freedom from stress. Freedom from thinking, “I know I have this bill coming but I don’t know if I’m going to have the money to pay.” It’s a relief to know that I can just go to bed and wake up and know that at the end of the day, it’s going to be taken care of. 

Some of my goals for this year are to keep sorting through my credit and getting my score up and to keep working on myself. I started going to therapy and it’s so helpful. I want to be great for me so I can be great for my son. I’ve been watching my son’s behavior improve and when I pick him up from school his teachers always have good things to say about him. They let me know I’m doing something right, and that keeps me going.

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 kfleischer@msmagazine.com.

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Louneda is the mother of a 4-year-old son. She is currently looking for work and dreams of completing her college education. She is a recipient of one year of guaranteed income from the Magnolia Mother's Trust.