Financial Empowerment Experiments to Watch


The Ascend Network is full of innovators who are boldly and creatively architecting solutions to change the financial dynamic that changes family dynamics. Here are a few we recommend following:

Magnolia Mothers Trust: Ascend fellow Aisha Nyandoro is leading this first-of-its kind effort to give black mothers a guaranteed income. In a black community in Jackson, Mississippi where the average annual income is $11,300, Springboard to Opportunities is giving a group of mothers $1,000 a month for a year. Nyandoro told The Nation: without cash, “There is no breathing room. There is a constant idea that at any moment something could go wrong and knock you back—not just for that moment, but for six months or a year.” Check she and Economic Security Project co-founder Chris Hughes together on MSNBC.

DC Flex: Most housing assistance in this country is structured as long-term subsidies or short-term emergency rental assistance–both of which have major drawback for families who are struggling with the cost of housing in increasingly expensive cities. Some wait decades to get the support they need. Enter a new experiment in “shallow rent subsidies.” Laura Zeilinger, the Director of the Department of Human Services for the District of Columbia, told the Ascend Forum audience that families will be able to draw down whatever they need in a given month to close their housing cost gap (subsidies will likely average about $700 a month total). They are taking on a group via lottery for a 4-year experiment that, if it works to keep families in housing, will prove far less costly than traditional Section 8 programs.

Stockton Demonstration: Stockton, CA isn’t often confused with its neighbor, Silicon Valley, but one might argue that they are leading innovation on universal basic income. Five hundred residents will get $500 monthly stipends for 18-months to use as they see fit. The team running the experiment will measure what some of the side effects are: does school attendance go up? domestic violence go down? Only time will tell. Twenty-eight-year-old Mayor Michael Tubbs, a son of Stockton, is excited to see how this admittedly small scale experiment might shed light on how to move the foreclosure capital of the country into an era of economic renewal. He wants the next generation to stick around, as he told CNN: “We have a bunch of folks starting off life already behind, born into communities that don’t have a lot of opportunity. My mom always used to say, ‘You have to get out of Stockton.’ … But I want Stockton to be [a place people] want to live in.”