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Illustrated portrait of Aisha Nyandoro Lauren Tamaki for Vox

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Aisha Nyandoro is making guaranteed income a reality in Mississippi

Nyandoro’s program takes aim at generational poverty in Jackson, Mississippi.

Sigal Samuel is a senior reporter for Vox’s Future Perfect and co-host of the Future Perfect podcast. She writes primarily about the future of consciousness, tracking advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience and their staggering ethical implications. Before joining Vox, Sigal was the religion editor at the Atlantic.

The longest-running guaranteed-income program in the United States just turned five years old — and it’s led by a trailblazing woman in Mississippi named Aisha Nyandoro.

As the founding CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, a nonprofit working to end generational poverty, Nyandoro launched an initiative called the Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT) in 2018. It gives $1,000 monthly checks — no strings attached — to Black mothers living in affordable housing in Jackson, Mississippi. So far, the initiative has served over 300 mothers.

MMT is the first guaranteed income program to specifically target extremely low-income American families headed by Black mothers. Results have shown positive effects on health and education, with recipients 27 percent more likely to go to a doctor if they were sick and 20 percent more likely to have kids performing above grade level.

The initiative distinguishes itself from other programs by highlighting the generational aspect of poverty. It offers social experiences for both the mothers and their kids and sets up a 529 children’s savings account for kids under 18.

When the expanded child tax credit (CTC) — which had made a major positive difference for millions of low-income families — expired at the end of 2021, MMT was a vital lifeline for those left in the lurch in Mississippi.

“It helped ease my burden a lot when I started getting the monthly child tax credits ... Not getting the payments anymore has definitely put a strain on my budget,” a Mississippi-based single mom told Ms. magazine in 2022. Participating in a guaranteed income program has helped ease that strain again. “Being a part of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust made me realize that things can change for the better,” she added.

“I’m thrilled that the organization I lead is standing in the gap,” Nyandoro told me at the time. “But this is not a long-term solution … We need a scale that we can only get at the national level.”

Nyandoro’s biggest ambitions operate in that grander orbit. She wants to show how the success of MMT can be scaled nationally through policies like a renewed CTC and a federal guaranteed income. She told me last year that it’s useful to have guaranteed income pilots sprinkled across various cities because, in addition to directly helping recipients, these pilots educate the communities they’re embedded in about what guaranteed income is and why it’s a good idea. That can help counter pernicious and persistent myths about poor people, like the false idea that they can’t be trusted to use cash rationally and will instead spend it on drugs.

“I think the CTC not being permanent is a perfect example of what happens when we hold a false narrative about individuals living in poverty, and the harm that those false narratives can do,” Nyandoro said. Changing the narrative is a long game, she said, so people should expect that it’ll be two steps forward, one step back — and just keep on taking those steps.

Nyandoro, for her part, will be marching ahead, at the front of the pack.

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