PROVIDENCE – Mayor Jorge Elorza on Monday announced plans to extend the city’s guaranteed income program by six months, using federal rescue aid to push the program past the end of his own term in office.
“What we hope to do with this program is to help people find their way out of that deep poverty that just keeps dragging you down, for a relatively minimal investment,” Elorza said at a City Hall news conference.
In November 2021, 110 recipients were randomly chosen out of about 4,000 applicants to receive $500 checks every month. The two requirements: They had to live in Providence, and have an income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. No other strings were attached, and the city did not put restrictions on how the money could be used. It was meant to supplement, not replace, other safety net programs that have more requirements and restrictions.
All the while, experts at the Center for Guaranteed Income Research, based at the University of Pennsylvania, have been analyzing how the program – similar to cities around the country – has worked.
So far it’s proven successful in Providence, Elorza and supporters said. Half the recipients get their money loaded onto a debit card, and the data show that the majority of it is being spent on necessities like groceries, program administrators said.
The extension will cost $500,000 between the cash assistance and administrative costs, and will allow the program to continue past the point that Elorza leaves office. The city will pay for it using funds it received from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal legislation that gave cities and states local aid in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first 12 months of the program had been funded privately. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey helped bankroll the program around the country, including in Providence. Locally, the United Way of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Foundation, which came out to celebrate its extension, also pitched in. The program is administered in Providence by Amos House and Dorcas International.
“This opportunity is really making an enormous difference,” said Eileen Hayes, president and CEO of Amos House.
To recipients Lititia Hall and Brandi Landry, the money was a huge boost that they were glad would keep supporting them for another six months. Hall said she’s using it to buy things like clothes and driving lessons for her teenage daughter.
“It’s a blessing, every day,” Hall said.
Landry said that after struggling off and on with homelessness for decades, the money had helped her find housing and buy other necessities. Now, for the first time, she’ll be able to buy her first TV, she said to applause. A small one, she said. But she’s never thought of using it on something she wasn’t supposed to, she said.
Surrounded by some of the state’s top nonprofit officials and its capital city’s mayor, Landry said she had big plans for the future, which will in some way involve helping others.
“Someday I’m going to be in someone’s shoes up here,” she said.
The fate of the program beyond these six months, though, is unclear. Two of the candidates vying in the September Democratic primary to succeed Elorza — Gonzalo Cuervoand Brett Smiley — did not respond to requests for comment about whether the program would continue if they were elected. Smiley criticized the program when announcing his campaign, according to The Providence Journal.
Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune’s campaign said in an emailed statement: “The Councilwoman supports the Mayor’s expansion of the program by six months and will look at where things stand at the end of the expansion to make any further determinations.”
When he was asked what the future of the program might look like, Elorza said time would tell, based in part on the research they’re doing now in Providence.
This story has been updated to add a comment from Nirva LaFortune’s campaign, and to correct the title of Eileen Hayes, president and CEO of Amos House.