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St. Paul’s next basic income experiment: $12,000 cash plus money for college

Twin Cities Pioneer Press logo Twin Cities Pioneer Press 6/29/2022 Josh Verges, Frederick Melo
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter speaks at the Rondo Center of Diverse Expression's Juneteenth block party at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza in St. Paul on Sunday, June 19, 2022. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press) © Provided by Twin Cities Pioneer Press St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter speaks at the Rondo Center of Diverse Expression's Juneteenth block party at the Rondo Commemorative Plaza in St. Paul on Sunday, June 19, 2022. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

St. Paul is expanding its guaranteed basic income experiment, giving monthly checks to more families while also making deposits into some of their children’s college savings accounts.

With the city council’s support, Mayor Melvin Carter launched the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot in November 2020, spending $300,000 in federal coronavirus relief grants and $1.2 million from donors.

That provided $500 a month for 18 months to 150 low-income families with no strings attached.

Carter announced Wednesday that the next phase, which he’s calling CollegeBound Boost, will send money to two groups:

  • 333 families will get $1,000 added to each of their children’s College Bound St. Paul savings accounts.
  • 333 additional families will get the same $1,000 for college, plus two full years of monthly $500 checks.

The city will compare the outcomes for those families against a third “control” group of 333 families enrolled in College Bound St. Paul without the boost or monthly checks.

The city created the college savings program 2½ years ago in hopes of growing the share of city residents who go on to college while also improving young families’ financial and general well-being.

Since 2020, every child who either is born in St. Paul or moves to the city before age 6 has been eligible to receive $50, plus occasional bonuses, in a college savings account earning modest interest. However, a state law that restricts information sharing on the children of unmarried mothers has made it difficult for the city to enroll many of its newborns.

ELIGIBILITY LIMITS

To become eligible for monthly checks from the basic income program, a family must be enrolled in College Bound St. Paul and have an income of no more than three times the federal poverty limit. The 666 recipient families will be chosen at random from that group, and the initial 150 families that received checks will not be excluded.


Video: From St. Paul to Minneapolis, guaranteed income pilots are giving families a boost (KARE-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul)

Replay Video

Pending approval from the city council next month, the expanded program will start around the end of August and will be funded with $4 million in coronavirus relief grants plus $1 million from philanthropists, the city said.

The mayor said early evidence from a similar guaranteed-income project in Stockton, Calif., found that offering cash assistance without limiting how the money could be spent helped some recipients take time off from a part-time job to interview for a full-time job, or buy a suit for a job interview, or purchase medicine.

The mayor, addressing conference-goers Wednesday at the St. Paul RiverCentre, recalled that his family received public food support, or WIC, when his daughter was born, but the requirements limited purchases to milk, eggs, peanuts and other foods to which she was allergic.

“That’s not the way families work,” said Carter, during the Midwest Asset Building Conference, which was focused on racial wealth gaps. “Particularly during the pandemic, one family might need food support and one family might need child care support. … I would be so angry, so offended every time we walked through the grocery store.”

The program will be evaluated by University of Michigan professor William Elliott, a prominent researcher of children’s college savings accounts who has worked with the city since the 2020 launch of College Bound St. Paul.

“Guaranteed income helps parents make it through a month. But savings for the future — through savings deposits from the city — gives families tangible hope for their kids’ future,” Elliott said in a statement released by the city. “Both sides of the equation are crucial, and families will benefit immensely.”

Carter expects the study of St. Paul’s initiative will demonstrate that negative tropes about poor people are untrue.

“If we understand that people aren’t poor because they lack character, they’re poor because they lack money, then all the things that we correlate with poverty suddenly aren’t acts of God anymore,” he said Wednesday. “They’re this fungible thing that we can impact just by making sure that people can get to the end of the month.”

An evaluation of the impact the monthly checks had on the first 150 recipients is not yet complete.

Shira Markoff, a policy fellow with Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes children’s savings accounts, said she knows of only one other U.S. program — Magnolia Mother’s Trust, run by a nonprofit in Jackson, Miss. — that combines guaranteed income payments with college savings contributions.

“There are a few cities that happen to have both have a guaranteed income program and children’s savings account (CSA) programs (e.g., Los Angeles). However, St. Paul is the only city I know of with a direct connection, in which there is a deliberate overlap of families participating in the CSA program being selected to also participate in the guaranteed income program,” she said by email.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct details of the new initiative, which were not fully explained in a city press release.

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