Dolly Parton, 2011. Credit to: Eva Rinaldi Photography
Approximately 1,300 homes were destroyed by wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in November of 2016. Singer and actress Dolly Parton, who comes from the same county, created a fund through the Dollywood Foundation to help families uprooted by the fires. The My People Fund provided $1,000 USD per month to each family who lost a home, beginning in December 2016 and ending in May 2017 with a final payment of $5,000. Approximately 900 families were found eligible for this program.
Stacia West, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Tennessee, made a link between the My People Fund and basic income in a recent interview. West worked with the Dollywood Foundation to develop an evaluation of the My People Fund, using a survey that assessed family finances, housing, wellbeing, and sources of support. The first survey was answered by approximately 100 voluntary participants in April 2017, and preliminary findings are available. The same questionnaire will be distributed in December 2017. This approach is intended to help the team assess whether or not the My People Fund had a positive impact on recipients’ lives, and if so, to what extent.
In an email communication with Basic Income News, Dr. West commented on the link between the My People Fund and basic income:
“Though intended solely as financial support for survivors of the wildfires, the My People Fund cash transfers mirror some components of basic income, particularly that the transfers were provided without a means test and for a somewhat extended duration of 6 months. Final results of the longitudinal evaluation will be available in early 2018, and I look forward to learning how the transfers impacted financial, social, and health outcomes for the sample.”
The preliminary findings of the My People Fund Evaluation state that on average, respondents experienced an increase in housing costs (mortgage or rent) following the wildfires. For example, partnered or married households shifted from spending 38% of their income on housing before the fires, to 64% after relocation. Most respondents reported having to take time away from work, and 74% of respondents had fire-related expenses not covered by insurance. Some experienced depression, anxiety, or a loss of self-efficacy following the fires. In addition, 62% of respondents noted that cash donations were the most useful form of support following the fire.
More information at:
Steve Ahillen, “Dolly Parton’s ‘My People’ money paid off for those who lost homes in fires, study shows,” USA Today Network-Tennessee. November 16th 2017.
“UT Releases Preliminary Findings of ‘My People Fund’ Evaluation,” Tennessee Today, November 16th 2017.
Stacia West, “My People Fund Evaluation: Preliminary Findings,” The University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Social Work, October 1st 2017.