Advocates say that so-called guaranteed basic income—a program through which no-strings stipends are provided to low-income people—is one of the few modern efforts to systematically end poverty.
After Santa Fe city officials announced a small-scale foray into the concept six months ago, a group of community organizations on Monday announced plans to launch a yearlong, statewide guaranteed basic income pilot project.
The particulars: 330 families from 13 of New Mexico’s 33 counties will receive monthly payments of $550 to help with all manner of living expenses. The plan is to push the money to a group of families that looks like New Mexico—105 of them living in rural areas and 225 in urban centers—to match the state’s one-quarter-rural demographics.
The New Mexico Economic Relief Working Group, a coalition of community-focused organizations, secured $3 million in private dollars for the design, evaluation and roll-out of the project through the WK Kellogg Foundation and UpTogether, a national family advocacy nonprofit. UpTogether will distribute the payments and the community organizations will evaluate the money’s impact on families’ financial standing.
There are some specific criteria for who is eligible.
Families must have a mixed-immigration status, meaning relatives have different citizenship statuses (which might look like a family of undocumented parents with children who are US-born citizens), and one minor child or an adult dependent with a disability. The coalition says it plans to randomly select participating families who meet the eligibility requirements while maintaining representation from across the state.
Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a worker and immigrant advocacy organization, says the coalition chose to provide payments to mixed-immigration-status families because “immigrants are the ones that are often not just left out of cash assistance in its different forms, but also in just basic services that are available to folks who are non-immigrants.”
“They were the last to leave their jobs at the onset of the pandemic, and the first to return, in part because they didn’t have all that other support,” Díaz tells SFR, referring to the federal and state relief that bypassed undocumented families.
Díaz says there’s a big overlap between undocumented people and essential workers, and that group was “not going to be able to tap into a lot of the cash assistance that was available to other people, including unemployment benefits and other federal and state stimulus.”
Undocumented immigrants paid almost $68 million in state and local taxes, according to a 2020 report from New Mexico Voices for Children. Still, 60,000 undocumented immigrants are often excluded from benefits provided during emergencies, including unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.
Families will receive the payments with the freedom to spend the money however they see fit, which Díaz explains better serves the diverse needs of New Mexicans. Díaz notes rental assistance, which the City of Santa Fe provided to local families, helps those with narrow needs, but it doesn’t adequately cover those living in non-traditional housing.
Díaz explains that families borrowed money from relatives to pay rent and avoid eviction. “A lot of folks said, ‘Well, can we get this rental assistance to pay our brother-in-law? Can we get this rental assistance to pay this debt that we have?’” she says. “And of course, the answer was no.”
The guaranteed basic income project follows a previous initiative by the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Community College to give 100 student parents $400 a month for a year. Six months into the state’s first basic income program, Mayor Alan Webber said during a news conference Monday that the Santa Fe-based project has made direct cash payments to 100 families, signaling his support for the newest basic income project.
“Low income status leads to lower educational attainment, which leads to lower job opportunities and that leads to lower income and we get stuck in this cycle,” said Webber. “The way to break that cycle, once and for all, is through a guaranteed basic income.”
The City of Las Cruces is weighing the option of using pandemic relief funding to start a guaranteed basic income program. Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo, who has advocated for the project, said during Monday’s news conference that the council hasn’t made a final decision with what to do with $10.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.
UpTogether CEO Jesús Gerena said during the news conference that his organization has invested $11 million in New Mexico during the last two years to help families navigate the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic through cash assistance programs. In 2020, UpTogether was contracted by the City of Santa Fe to distribute $2 million to residents disproportionately impacted by the pandemic through direct payments.
Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, one of the partner organizations that will help evaluate the newly announced pilot program, says its efficacy will be measured, in part, by speaking with families before and after they receive cash assistance.
“If the evidence shows that this really does make a positive difference for families in our state…ideally what we’d really love to see is policy at the state level that goes along these same lines.”
Eligible families—who are residents of Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, McKinley, Curry, Roosevelt, San Juan, Chaves, Lea, Doña Ana, Luna, Grant or Hidalgo counties—can apply through the online application, available in English and Spanish, until Friday, Feb. 11 at 3 pm.