The Board receives a briefing on the success of the first year of the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust project
November 3, 2022
Nearly 100 black mothers are receiving a basic income through a new county program known as the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project. On Tuesday November 1, the project leaders briefed the Board of Commissioners on the impact of the first year of the program.
The program serves approximately 100 Black female-headed households whose children currently receive services through the Black Parents Initiative Where Women first programs. Families receive an unconditional basic income of approximately $500 per month.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for programs like the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project. The disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on black households has deepened already existing racial wealth gaps. The goal of the program, launched by the Multnomah Idea Lab, is to bring long-term stability to black mothers and their families. A second phase of the program is scheduled to begin on Monday, November 7.
“When I think of what the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust project is and can be, I think of the welfare of African Americans, especially African American women,” said Ebonee Bell, who coordinates the program.
National and international research shows that strategies such as unconditional cash transfers, basic income, debt reduction and asset building can be effective in closing the racial wealth gap. Program officials say that when anti-poverty programs trust low-income people to know what they need—and those programs provide direct, unconditional access to financial resources—program participants see improvements. in their quality of life, their economic stability and the academic success of their children.
An example is Baby’s first years, a randomized, controlled study measuring the benefits of poverty reduction on family life and on the cognitive, emotional and brain development of infants and toddlers. The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, another substitute for unconditional cash transfers, has also resulted in a 30% decrease in child poverty nationally.
Multnomah County also has additional unconditional cash transfer programs, including through healthy birth initiatives. Seventy-two percent of participants reported an increase in their well-being, and all participants reported spending their money on basic necessities.
“By giving people unrestricted income, we are giving back power, sovereignty and autonomy so that people can make decisions that affect them, be treated as adults in a way that government and society as a whole took away”, Curator Jessica Vega Pederson said.
The Multnomah Mothers’ Trust project began by recruiting 100 participants from the Black Parent Initiative and WomenFirst programs. Earlier this year, the program began handing out monthly payments of $500 and kept records of how the money was spent. Participants who provided monthly information on their economic situation received an additional $50 per month.
“From our perspective, it’s investing a county resource and a public dollar that yields a dual benefit: both the immediate banning of basic needs and debt reduction, and the other collateral benefits that are the long-term benefits,” said Mary Li, who runs the Multnomah Idea Lab.
Bahia Overton, executive director of the Black Parent Initiative, said she was initially skeptical.
“I said, ‘This looks like a set-up,'” she said. “’Why do we receive unrestricted funds? And are they going to say that these poor black people can’t pull themselves together? How is this going to be?
After learning more about the program model, she chose to go ahead with the project. She let everyone in attendance know that the money was unlimited. She also made sure everyone was aware of the Black Parent Initiative’s financial literacy classes, which 90% of mothers chose to attend.
Program officials said participants used the funds to cover utilities, medical and other family emergencies, their children’s school fees, rent payments, overdue utilities, car repairs surprises and even organizing a birthday party for their child.
One participant used the funds to buy a house. Another bought her first washer and dryer. Not having to make special trips to the laundromat has created balance for her, Overton said, which has led to greater family stability.
“All the moms said how grateful they were to have this pillow, that it meant everything to them,” Overton said. “It made a huge difference.”
Shannon Olive, executive director of WomenFirst, also said she was skeptical at first. She wasn’t sure if the program was really unconditional, or if there would be a catch. But after learning more, she wants to see it replicated throughout Multnomah County.
Most WomenFirst participants are out of prison, recovering from addiction, or recovering from some other trauma. Olive believed they would benefit from unrestricted funds by finding some stability in their lives.
Throughout the program, WomenFirst asked participants about how they used the funds. All participants started or added emergency funds. Some have paid rent, utilities or other bills. Others have paid for child care, after-school programs and other important activities for their children.
“All of our participants have benefited greatly from this program,” Olive said. “At WomenFirst, we will continue to champion the well-being and success of our participants, and we hope that you will continue to listen and continue to meet the needs of our women.”
Phase two of the project begins on November 7. Program officials will add programs focused on home ownership and debt reduction. Over the next few weeks, a cohort of women will work to design a program to help people navigate the homeownership process.
“I just want to say how proud I am that Multnomah County is always on the cutting edge of doing things off the beaten path,” Curator Lori Stegmann said. “You are all perfect examples of that.”
Program officials selected participants for the next program. The Multnomah Mothers’ Trust project also hopes to enroll more Black families and create access for Indigenous and Pacific Islander participants.
In the long term, the program hopes to increase by at least 100 participants. Philanthropic organizations have also expressed interest in getting involved, particularly in asset building. Commissioners said they support work to find additional sources of funding.
“These strategies are central to Multnomah County’s strategies,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “Over time, integrating them into strategies supported by the General Fund is something I would be very supportive of.”
Commissioner Sharon Meieran echoes his support. “I absolutely agree that this is related to our main mission as a county and I want to see how we are able to support this work. because that predictability is really key,” she said.