Durham launches long-awaited guaranteed basic income program

31 March 2022

More than 100 Durham residents received $600 this month as part of the city’s guaranteed basic income program. The program aims to put cash in people’s pockets for the next year.

People are using the monthly funds to pay for rent, food and gas prices, according to Syretta Hill, executive director for the nonprofit StepUp Durham.

The nonprofit received city funds to help identify good candidates for Durham’s new program.

“I am so moved by the social justice temperament in this city and the fact that we are progressive,” Hill said.

One of those recipients is Tydricka Lewis, a mother of three who works as a peer support specialist for a health care company. Lewis will use the cash infusion to catch up on bills. She spent the first installment on car insurance.

“It’s definitely a blessing,” she said. “It will change my life day to day.”

Research shows that giving people a universal basic income improves both physical and mental health. It encourages small businesses and can create more racial equity, according to Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-free Communities.

Hill said Durham is sending the money to people who were previously incarcerated because often those people face barriers when it comes to finding employment or housing.

“I hope that the individuals that receive this guaranteed income just have a little bit of space and time to get housing and to get livable wage employment,” Hill said.

Stockton, California, started a similar program last year and gave around 125 residents $500 each month with no strings attached. The residents who received funds experienced “less income volatility than those who did not receive the guaranteed income, permitting households to stabilize and plan for the future,” according to the city’s research.

Mark-Anthony Middleton, mayor pro-tempore of Durham, said he hopes this program will help reduce crime in the community.

“A lot of folks have said we don’t need to spend more money on police. We need to spend money on root-cause initiatives,” he said. “I’ve been saying for years, let’s put our money where our mouth is.”

Hill stressed that this program is “not a handout.” In order for the entire city to thrive, the Durham community has to be willing to help one another, she said.

“We have to understand that we’re all connected, and we don’t all thrive unless we all truly thrive,” she said.

“This is really supporting people who have made some decisions that the consequences have led to incarceration and they’ve done their time and now want to move past that,” she said.

Middleton said the program is not about “giving out exotic cars or mansions.”

“This is about addressing economics, about addressing need, about stabilizing families,” he said. “Economically stable neighbors make better neighbors.”

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