Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe is working to implement a program that would give guaranteed income to formerly incarcerated people in Gainesville following their release.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gave Mayors for Guaranteed Income, a coalition of mayors looking to implement guaranteed income programs, $15 million. MGI distributed the money to cities across the U.S. and set aside half a million dollars for Poe’s program. The program is expected to start in October and will continue raising private funds on a national and local level until it reaches its goal of over $1.6 million.
The programs funded by MGI can choose which demographics to target with the cash. Poe said his goal is to give 115 former prisoners $600 a month for two years.
The program is looking to specifically target former inmates because of the obstacles they typically face following their release, Poe said. A 2018 Prison Policy Initiative study found that former prisoners are 10 times more likely to end up homeless than the general population.
Poe would partner with Community Spring, an organization based in Gainesville. It hires people impacted by poverty to identify and help eradicate issues that contribute to impoverishment.
Kevin Scott, a formerly incarcerated employee at Community Spring, said he was given a bathing suit when he left jail five years ago during winter because that’s all they had that would fit him.
“Not only was I homeless, jobless, traumatized tremendously from my experience, but I also had negative money,” he said. “I had a mountain of debt.”
Scott explained he was still responsible for court fees, probation fees and child support upon his release. Failure to pay those debts would result in a return to prison, he said.’
“The sense that every sentence is a life sentence is super real for a lot of people,” Scott said.
Scott also said the trauma of being in jail takes a physical toll on people. He said guards berated him and other prisoners are sometimes physically abused by guards. While Scott thinks people coming out of that experience need to feel accepted, the opposite happens instead.
He said money with no strings attached helps former prisoners feel empowered, acknowledged and valued.
“We’re not just going to tolerate your return to society, but we're going to embrace you,” Scott said.
The program is being administered by Community Spring for now but other options for the program can still be considered in the future, Poe said. Other cities — like Richmond, Virginia and Mount Vernon, New York — are looking at models partly funded by public money, so a public fund is not off the table, he said.
“There are no plans for this to be included in this coming fiscal year’s budget,” Poe said. “I can’t speak for future years after that because that’s up to a different commission and a different vote.”
Unconditional payments to citizens have been in the spotlight as COVID-19 stimulus checks saw popular support. More than half of Americans supported the previous round of stimulus checks, and over a quarter thought it should have been larger, according to a Monmouth University poll.
Mayors across the nation are working together to find ways to provide people with direct cash. New America, a research group that promotes solutions to social issues, hosted a meeting May 25 to discuss direct cash payments.
Poe joined New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui. All four mayors discussed how guaranteed income can help bring balance to a system filled with wealth inequality.
During the meeting, a privately funded income experiment initiated by Michael Tubbs, the former mayor of Stockton, California, in 2019 was discussed. It gave 125 randomly selected participants $500 a month for two years in an effort to increase their chances of landing a job.
The findings showed the number of recipients with full-time jobs increased by 12% after a year of receiving benefits.
“It’s not a hand out, it’s really a hand up,” Cantrell said at the meeting.
Alex is a fourth-year journalism student at UF and is in his third semester at The Alligator where he is serving as the university editor. He previously reported on university administration and the city and county commission. In his free time, he enjoys video games, traveling and being outdoors.