In January 2022, 57 people began receiving unconditional direct deposit payments and on March 31st, 58 more people began receiving payments. The guaranteed income project in Gainesville, Florida, Just Income GNV, provides these payments to those who have been recently released from either a state or federal prison or a Florida county jail with a felony. Through a financial disbursement partner, Steady, participants received a one-time $1000 deposit followed by $600 monthly payments. Payments are received directly to a bank account or a prepaid card. The program is privately funded by Mayors for Guaranteed Income, Spring Point Partners, and donations. During onboarding, recipients were offered a benefits counselor through Southern Legal Counsel so that they could understand the potential impacts participation may have on other benefits.
Just Income GVN will be evaluated based on the level of effect a guaranteed income has on justice-impacted people. Using a mix-methods randomized controlled trial, Group A (Recipients) will receive the money and Group B (Allies) will not. The Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR) at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Lucius Couloute, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Suffolk University, paired with the pilot program to evaluate the quantitative and qualitative data. They will specifically review the personal narratives, monitor spending, housing stability, and the relationship between income and recidivism.
The Program Director, Kevin Scott, explains that the largest barriers to launching the program were logistics and skepticism. The pilot program overcame logistical challenges throughout the process and learned a lot between the two separate cohorts. Skepticism, especially amongst formerly incarcerated people, presented as the belief that the program’s offerings were too good to be true. The target population of this particular pilot program is often marginalized and pushed beyond the outskirts of society. However, this project was designed by people formerly incarcerated and continues to be administered by those formerly incarcerated. This shared experience helped to build rapport and establish trust, overcoming much of the skepticism. Still, some of those who qualified did not pursue the benefits for themselves.
The project was undertaken by a nonprofit in Gainesville called Community Spring. The organization hires community members who have been impacted by poverty in order to better address the issue from an insider’s perspective. A need for resources around the release from incarceration were identified and a re-entry support group formed. Former prisoners began assisting those being released from prison, whether providing resources or emotional support.
When the Gainesville mayor joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, he went to Community Spring as a local nonprofit, offering the opportunity to implement a guaranteed income pilot. After careful consideration the group agreed to participate so long as the program could focus on people who have been formerly incarcerated.
An immediate difference could be seen in recipients’ lives within the first few months of payments. Recipients were and are paying off legal fees and investing in education and transportation. One recipient was able to buy a scooter at a thrift store and another was able to make payments to save his family home. The impact thus far has been extremely positive. The program’s organizers are excited to be a part of the research on guaranteed income and believe the data is compelling and could potentially lead to broader application.
Meagan Merritt, April 11th, 2022