‘I didn’t think it was real’: Over 100 formerly incarcerated Durhamites receive Universal Basic Income deposits
More than 100 former incarcerated members of the Durham community received a $500 deposit directly into their bank account in March. The money was granted with no strings attached – no work requirements or strings attached – and the first of 12 monthly payments was made through the Excel pilot program.
Administered through 501(c)(3) non-profit organization StepUp Durham, Excel Goals to “reinforce a national value that declares that there is a floor below which we will not allow anyone to fall simply by virtue of their humanity”.
Program leaders hope these payments will reduce high recidivism rates – North Carolina statewide rates were over 40% less than 10 years ago — by guaranteeing a base of economic security.
“We believe guaranteed income can help ensure a successful halfway house by providing a much-needed source of additional income to give people time to build a new life and find a new path,” says County Durham. . abstract guaranteed income pilot project.
Participants applied and were randomly selected for the program over a period of five months. To qualify, applicants had to be over the age of 18, low-income (earning 60% or less of Durham’s median income), and had been incarcerated for the past five years. A month later, the program has already had a tangible impact on the lives of beneficiaries.
After coming across a promotion for the scheme while surfing the internet, Torry Cooper, a UBI beneficiary and resident of Durham, received a phone call telling him he had won the lottery.
“I just received [the call] by chance. I didn’t know that number, and I just picked it up,” he said. “And that was pretty good — actually, really good, because I didn’t have a job and I was homeless at the time.”
Cooper described the moment he received his first payment as surreal.
“I didn’t think it was real, then I woke up, then I saw the money, that it had been deposited into my account,” Cooper said. “So I was like, ‘Actually, I was chosen.'”
Cooper has spent his first payment on immediate needs and housing, but he hopes the roughly $5,000 to $6,000 he will receive over time will add up.
“Hopefully I can save pretty much the majority of the money until the end of the year and then combine it with other funds and get myself a house,” he said.
Cooper believes the UBI program is a much-needed stepping stone for low-income people formerly incarcerated in Durham.
“It’s not that [low-income, formerly incarcerated people] lack support; it’s just that they don’t know about these types of programs that can help them come back,” he said. “If you have programs like this that can help, it’s kind of like [jumpstarting] their life to what it was before they got into trouble or harm happened in their life.
East Durham one of the 60 cities in the country participating in some form of guaranteed income program. The results of the program and others like it will be evaluated as proof of concept for future Universal Basic Income (UBI) policies, using a wide range of performance indicatorsincluding employment status, income volatility, housing security, and mental and physical health.
Beyond these statistical measures, StepUp also plans to administer surveys and interviews to better understand the personal impact of these allowances. The results will be published in the spring of 2023.
Some members of the Durham community have questioned the pilot scheme’s decision to focus exclusively on formerly incarcerated people. StepUp Durham executive director Syretta Hill explained the reasoning behind the choice in a December interview with The Chronicle.
“The hope is that we can challenge this stigma that people who have been incarcerated are unmotivated and don’t know how to use their resources. We’ve found that a lot of people we work with are highly motivated and know how to use their resources, but they just don’t have enough,” she said.
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| Staff reporter
Audrey Wang is a Trinity freshman and reporter for the News Service.
Sevana Wenn is a Trinity freshman and reporter for the News Service.