Cambridge direct-payment program is funded with $22M for lower-income families with kids
A guaranteed-income program tried by Cambridge two years ago, in which 130 single-caretaker households got $500 no-strings-attached monthly payments, clearly passed the test. On Tuesday, city leaders announced a new, 18-month round of $500 direct payments to families funded with $22 million – a dramatic increase from the $1.5 million in the program in 2021.
Though that effort was based on a model begun in California that became a national initiative called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, the new Rise Up Cambridge: Cash Payments for Families with Kids was called Tuesday the only citywide cash assistance program of its kind in the country.
That’s made it “a great day to be in Cambridge,” visiting U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley said.
Applications open June 1 and stay open until July 31. Rolling payments begin at the end of June.
The new initiative was presented in a noon press conference at City Hall by Pressley with Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Yi-An Huang, as well as two partners: the Cambridge Community Foundation, represented by president Geeta Pradhan, and the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, represented by Tina Alu. Also speaking was Victor Gutierrez and Lida Griffin, participants in the 2021 test of the Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment program.
The new program gives cash to low-income Cambridge households with children 21 or younger and earning at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. A city analysis shows there are 2,000 families in Cambridge eligible for the payments, totaling some 7,000 people in a city of 120,000. Eligibility looks at a ratio of family size to income that ranges from a family of two with household income of $49,300 to a family of five living on $87,850.
The rules for inclusion are another expansion from the 2021 test, in which participants were chosen by lottery.
“This is what government should be doing,” said Siddiqui, whose office led the programs.
Rise Up Cambridge got a major boost in funding through federal Covid-recovery money in the American Rescue Plan Act. The City Council voted in March 2022 to direct Arpa money toward expanding the 2021 test, Siddiqui said.
Most cities are using Arpa money for infrastructure, “but our city actually chose to use it for infrastructure for supporting the nonprofit sector, as well as supporting families – in fact, 25 percent of the city’s allocation,” Pradhan said.
What $500 a month buys
Findings from earlier direct-payment programs show that recipients use the income largely on food, housing, transportation and utilities, Pressley said, though Gutierrez and Griffin said that their 18 months in the program for single parents made room for things even after paying the bills and such things as car maintenance: Gutierrez was able to put a child in camp; Griffin got to try camping herself for the first time.
The participants’ stories were emotional. At one point, Griffin was handed a tissue, and when she stepped away from the lectern, Pressley hugged her. They held hands while Siddiqui spoke, up until the moment Pressley replaced the mayor at the microphone.
It’s been “considered to be very radical, and a fringe idea, to empower people with the self-agency and dignity to make their own choices,” Pressley said. “Just sit with that for a moment.”
Poor people live with stigma, but “it is not a moral failing, it’s not a character flaw to be poor. The failing is that people are poor in the richest nation in the country,” Pressley said, recounting how she volunteered that day at a soup kitchen in her 7th congressional district, which stretches from Revere to Randolph and includes much of Boston. In line, “it was overwhelmingly our elders on fixed incomes, who were pushing broken shopping carts and whose backs were bent. And they were going to have to take two or three buses to get back home. What an outrage for people in the twilight of their lives.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, it costs $130,740 for a household with two parents and two children to live in Cambridge, while the federal poverty level for the same household is $13,000, Pradhan said.
The problem is not new, “but it’s become worse,” Pradhan said. “For a city as wealthy as Cambridge, there is no reason why we should have poverty in our community – no reason why 1 in 8 people should go hungry.”
Families such as those eligible for Rise Up Cambridge have been told that “if they work hard and play by the rules, they will succeed. But many of our families work two and three jobs and are still struggling,” said Alu, who said her work with the CEOC confronts her daily with Cambridge’s tale of two cities.
In a recent survey, more than 87 percent of CEOC clients said that they don’t have $400 in emergency savings. “That’s not okay,” Alu said. “And as the high cost of food, gasoline and other expenses continue to grow, the number of people using our food pantry has skyrocketed. We needed to open a second food pantry site in North Cambridge. This is especially true for our black and brown families – there’s often a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that they’ll never be able to move out of poverty and have economic stability.”
After the Rise Up Cambridge funding ends comes the question of what’s next, the speakers said, and how longer-term programs can be built. Many were working on an answer, Pradhan said.
Huang said he’d been following the cash transfer movement for the past 15 years and appreciated taking part in “a small step toward creating a more just economic system – but an important step.”
“There is deep dignity to giving people the choice and power to decide what they need,” Huang said, and this 18-month program of Rise Up Cambridge “is not the end of the conversation.”
This post was updated May 4 to specify that federal grant discussions among city councillors referred to by Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui were in 2022.
Just more fiscal irresponsibility from the City of Cambridge.
The American Rescue Plan was passed during a time of both a public health and an economic crisis. It was to be used for immediate direct relief, and was aimed at millions of Americans who were losing their wages and benefits. It was also to be used to help hard hit small businesses.
It was not to be used for a guaranteed-income program. Mayor Siddiqui, this is not what government should be doing. While trying to take care of these two thousand families, you are using funds not meant for that purpose.
What you are doing by focussing on a small group of people in this program and so many others, is forgetting about a much larger group,
the middle-class people of Cambridge. Why is that? Here is a very large group that is struggling to stay in this city. Why do you and the other councillors continue to ignore them?
C43 the politicians blame greedy business owners for inflation. Meanwhile they’ve added 1 2 3 trillion dollars of debt.
Inflation is still raging and the free money is still flowing locally and nationally.
Buckle up the American peso is approaching.
Some 45 years ago when I chaired the Somerville-Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (yes, back then it is was a two city community empowerment organization), we only dreamt about a transformational program such as Rise-Up Cambridge.
Low-income families lack cash, economic assets and opportunity. This program has the potential to directly impact all three of these realities.
Congratulations to Mayor Siddiqui for her leadership and thanks to all who had the courage to support this program.
Buying votes. This money should have gone to the most hard hit of the pandemic … the children of cambridge through grants for college and scholarships. That we did nothing for the kids whose lives were turned upside down is 100% on Siddiqui.
What about low-income residents without children?
@ Gerald Bergman
Yes, as you said, “Low-income families lack cash, economic assets and opportunity.”
However, that is not what the American Rescue Plan was earmarked for. If Cambridge wants to support low income families with free money, let the city allocate funds… but not from Federal funds that were to be used for other things. And, as Patrick Barrett said, this is about buying votes.
Should we have a vast safety net for those who are really in need. Absolutely. It is essential. It is a moral obligation that we have as citizens. But, it should be at the Federal level, not at the local level. And guaranteed income for 18 months, coming from the City of Cambridge, is the beginning of going down a very dangerous path.
And as prc said, “Inflation is still raging and the free money is still flowing locally and nationally.” And it is definitely flowing in Cambridge.
We see it in the latest Cambridge budget, a 10% increase; excluding a shift of affordable housing funds, 7.1%. What is the City Manager thinking?
This is fiscal irresponsibility at its worst. The city’s budget has increased more than 4.5% for the last 30 years. This was reckless, but it was “deemed okay” because of the huge biotech development in Kendall Square. That is going to stop, and yet the city spends money, a lot of it on nonsensical items, as if the Kendall Square development is going to continue. It is not.
This city is on the cusp on a major fiscal problem, but everyone on the City Council is listening to the two rating agencies saying that Cambridge is in a very strong financial position. It is not.
Cambridge is losing it vast middle-class residents. Why? Because they are housing rich and cash poor. The city taxes that my wife and I pay have gone up almost four times in the 33 years we have lived here. The city is pricing
middle class people out, and at the same time bemoans the fact that this is happening. I’m sorry to say we have a group of financial illiterates on the city council, and have had for many years. They are living in a dream world and are soon to be faced with the reality that “all is not good” from a fiscal standpoint.
What happens in 18 months when the cash runs out?
In 18 months when the second round of Rise Up funding is complete the Cambridge Community deserves a rigorous evaluation of the program. We currently have a 1 BILLION dollar budget and we have to do due diligence regarding evaluation and future funding of a wide variety of priorities.
In 18 months political decisions will be made regarding the budget going forward. No promises should be made to families receiving Rise Up funding about future payments.
Unfortunately, the evaluation that I am calling for has not been part of the budget process. For example, on average, it costs every family of four approximately $2,500 to pay for policing programs. This comes at a time when many in the community have called for reduced police funding and alternatives which would better build a stronger and safer community.
Hundreds of residents get involved in the annual process of dividing up 1 million dollars. This process, while laudable, has served only as a distraction from getting involved in the larger and more important 1 BILLION + budget process.
“Buying votes” you mean politicians serving their constituency?
No I mean buying votes. Just giving people money isn’t constituent service lol.
Gerald not a large amount of people are calling for the defunding of police. Just the other day we have a fella with a knife and hammer assault six people at a newly opened restaurant in Central. We have unreported crimes and an open drug market brewing in the square and it’s getting more dangerous. If anything we need more police officers on the beat and support from this Council.
@ Gerald Bergman
For many years I’ve written detailed comments about the budgets, to the City Councilors and the City Managers (Healy, Rossi and DePasquale). It started when I saw the amount of money for the Peace Commission. Never once, did I get a reply from anyone.
There is no accountability on the part of the Councillors, because of our system of a Council made up of at large seats. We have a broken system and the budgets keep growing, and more and more it includes non essential items. This is part of the problem why middle class families are leaving Cambridge.