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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Guaranteed income program breaks down barriers for formerly incarcerated

Payments will come in monthly checks

Community Spring fellows believe a criminal sentence shouldn’t impact lives after people serve their time.

The nonprofit organization, which is known for breaking down structural poverty and supporting low-income people through monetary support, is running Just Income GNV.

The privately funded pilot program, designed by formerly incarcerated individuals, assists formerly incarcerated people re-enter society with a guaranteed income.

Community Spring hires fellows, specifically those who have been impacted by poverty, to identify systemic forces that spur further economic difficulties. The 2020-2021 fellowship class created the Just Income GNV program.

The guaranteed income program is currently in the application period, which ends Dec. 1. About a week later, a randomly selected group of 115 people will be selected to receive $7,600 in the next 12 months.

Kevin Scott, a 47-year-old Gainesville resident and project manager, has been involved with Community Spring since January 2020. To qualify, Scott said participants must be an Alachua County resident who has been released from a Florida state prison, a federal prison, a Florida county jail with a new felony conviction or began felony probation in Alachua County on or after June 1. 

“We know how difficult it is to come out and the struggles that are so ubiquitous for people that have been incarcerated,” Scott said. “The odds are very much against you.” 

The guaranteed income disbursements start with a $1,000 payment for the first month in January 2022 and $600 for the next 11 months for the 115 randomized participants.  

Out of the group, five voluntary participants will be part of a storytelling cohort. Scott said they will share in-depth written or video experiences about their lives moving forward while receiving the payments and will become the faces and names of the program. 

The 2020-2021 class developed other programs that support formerly incarcerated people and low-income households, like Torchlighters Re-Entry Support and CS Direct. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe helped spur the efforts to start the guaranteed income pilot program by joining Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a nationwide network of mayors advocating for an income floor for all Americans. 

Just Income GNV is being independently evaluated and researched by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Lucius Couloute, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at Suffolk University. 

The researchers’ goal is to determine if a guaranteed income can mitigate societal barriers for formerly incarcerated people for a successful re-entry to society while unlocking the inherent potential within every person.

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“The research will certainly have a huge role,” Scott said. “We’re hopeful, we think, from our own experience, that this will be a positive.”

Tequila McKnight, a 45-year-old Gainesville business owner, is serving as the participant coordinator. 

McKnight said she hopes the program will combat recidivism, the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. She believes a steady flow of income could change people’s lives.

“It’s going to show that people are being put in prison or jail because of what their wallet shows,” McKnight said. “It happened to me.”

She said she’s thankful for the research effort, and she’s ready to grow this program to help as many formerly incarcerated people as possible.

“I want it to go to whoever needs it because I went through that,” McKnight said. “I know how hard it is.”

The project’s main goal is to continue uplifting low-income families and people in Gainesville while bringing more awareness to the difficulties of formerly incarcerated individuals. 

“Will an income have an impact on how a person feels about themselves and their role in the community?” Scott said. “It’s about money, but it’s also about more than money.”

Scott and McKnight said they are reopening the applications again in January 2022 for the second group of lottery-style selected justice-impacted individuals. The payments for the next group will begin in March 2022. 

Contact Troy Myers at @tmyers@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @Troy_Myers1.

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Troy Myers

Troy is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in business administration. He previously studied accounting for two years at Santa Fe College but has since transferred to UFCJC. When Troy isn’t writing, he enjoys watching the UF athletic teams, going to the beach and spending time with his identical twin brother and family.


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