One year ago on Mother’s Day, Family Health Project launched our first pilot for new mothers. We began with the idea that to help solve poverty, we would give money to people in financial hardship. Not in-kind transfers, not subsidies, but cash—directly into the hands of those who need it.
Our idea is not a new one. Bodies of research, like the Baby’s First Years study, and dozens of other guaranteed income pilots, like the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), have already shown that direct, unconditional cash transfers to low-income families have outsized benefits to families and society.
And so, one year ago, Family Health Project was born. Since our launch, we have expanded to two pilots with 30 new moms in Lynn and Roxbury, Massachusetts. Our pilots transfer $400 per month for three years to the moms in our program. The cash is unconditional because we know that moms know best how to address their unique life circumstances.
To celebrate our first year, we caught up with Valerie Davis and Siraad Yusuf, case workers at Whittier Street Health Center. Federally Qualified Community Health Centers like Whittier Street are crucial to the scalability of Family Health Project. They refer new mothers to our pilots and offer wraparound services to support moms through and beyond their pregnancies.
Valerie and Siraad work closely with the fifteen mothers in our Roxbury pilot. They helped the mothers enroll in our pilot and explained that none of their benefits, like food stamps, would be impacted by participation since Family Health Project’s cash transfers qualify as gifts, which do not affect any benefits that they may be receiving through the government.
The most challenging part of enrolling moms in our pilots? Convincing them that it wasn’t too good to be true. “I don’t think anyone initially said, ‘I’m in,’ right off the bat,” Valerie reflected.
“After they got over the initial disbelief, because no one believes that anyone’s going to give them a bank card with $400 every month for three years with no strings attached, they want to know if it’s taxable, if it’s going to affect any of their other benefits.”
“You know when they were really convinced?” Valerie added. “When they started getting the payments. That’s when they were convinced this was real.”
For the moms in our pilots, like Maya Smith (names have been changed), enrollment in Family Health Project offers a new lifeline. Due to a high-risk pregnancy, Maya had to stop working her full-time job earlier than expected. Already struggling to make ends meet and preparing for the arrival of her first daughter, this unexpected loss of income led to many sleepless nights.
But the recurring $400 payments helped stabilize Maya and grant her the flexibility that she didn’t have before. According to Siraad, Maya’s caseworker at Whittier, Maya feels immense relief now that she doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for public transportation and diapers for her daughter. With these extra funds, Maya has the resources and stability to return to her job part-time, while having capacity to take care of her daughter, and have some time for herself, too.
With immediate needs covered, Maya looks ahead to the future. At one of her last check-up appointments, Maya shared with Siraad that she plans to put $100 aside every month from Family Health Project’s payments into savings for her daughter after the pilot ends.
Even though Valerie and Siraad initially had trouble convincing moms that Family Health Project really wasn’t too good to be true, that problem was short-lived.
“We have a problem now at Whittier,” Siraad chuckled. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls.” Valerie continued, “We have a problem because friends are telling friends and we’re getting calls!”
“They couldn’t really comprehend that [they] could get $400 [a month]. In the beginning it seemed unreal. But now they know it’s real through word of mouth,” Siraad finished.
With one year completed, we are optimistic.
We look forward to continuing our work and sharing more stories from mothers. We are extraordinarily grateful for the generosity from our supporters that make these kinds of pilots possible. If you are interested in advancing our efforts to expand and scale our pilots, please consider making a gift today.
Happy Mother’s Day! Let’s continue to support moms.