CONCORD, CA (Nov. 13, 2023) — Monument Impact’s new guaranteed income program is offering 120 single-parent families some breathing room on their journey to economic independence.
Along the way, organizers hope to combat the punitive system that keeps people in poverty and change the narrative about financial instability.
“Right now in the United States, we tend to blame people for their financial condition. We call that a deficit-based view,” says Rachel Barnhart, media relations director of the Oakland-based UpTogether. “We want to see people for their strengths, their initiatives and their own pathways to get ahead.”
The Elevate Concord pilot program will provide each family $500 a month for one year with no strings attached – along with a $2,500 upfront payment to help them stabilize their financial situations. The majority of the funding comes from $1.5 million the Concord City Council allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
According to project manager Julia Quintero, the idea evolved during the pandemic.
“We saw that a lot of people were having a hard time recovering, whether they had lost their jobs or just needed extra assistance. We were getting a lot of community members coming in and asking for different resources, whether for mental assistance or helping them find jobs. Our team spent a couple months thinking of the best way to address these concerns,” she says.
Working to maintain other benefits
Monument Impact based the program on SEED, the Stockon Economic Empowerment Demonstration. The funds are considered a gift and fall underneath the $16,000 cap for taxation.
But because the additional money can push participants over the limit for government services, Monument Impact will help people apply for waivers so they can continue to receive their maximum benefits.
“If you make a dollar more than you’re supposed, you can lose a lot of benefits. How does that incentivize them to get ahead?” Barnhart asks. “We place barriers every step of the way. Our failed systems keep us stuck in the status quo.”
Quintero applauds Oakland-based UpTogether’s efforts on behalf of the underserved.
“They prioritize giving people the resources they need and also advocate the ways in which policies are made and how poverty has been addressed in our country,” she says.
Monument Impact has focused on Concord’s immigrant, refugee and low-income communities since 2001. Quintero, who grew up in Concord, came on board in August after completing her master’s in anthropology at Texas State University. She had previously worked in Texas and Arizona with families of immigrants who died while crossing the border.
“I decided to join Monument Impact because they really aligned with my values and ideals,” she says. “I really wanted to be part of something that is going to help families in the community.”
According to Quintero, 178 applicants qualified for the funding. UpTogether chose participants randomly.
To be considered, people had to meet the following criteria:
• Be a resident of Concord.
• Be a single parent with at least one child under 12.
• Earn $55,000 or less annually.
• Lost income during COVID.
• Face housing instability.
Guidance along the new path
As part of Elevate Concord, Monument Impact will offer “wrap-around services” to support the residents’ long-term goals.
“We have technology classes if people want to learn computer skills. We have an emerging business program if someone wants to start a business. We have mental health classes. We also have rental assistance,” Quintero reports. “And we will be providing other kinds of workshops throughout the year revolved around topics that our participants will guide us in.”
UpTogether also encourages those in the program – or anyone in need – to join its social media platform focused on community building and solutions to poverty.
At the year’s end, Monument Impact will evaluate the program’s effectiveness. “We will see how their mental health changed, how they’re spending more time with their children,” Quintero says.
Based on the $195 million in guaranteed income that UpTogether has already helped distribute nationwide, Elijah Wood also expects positive results.
“Generally speaking, we have seen an overall increase in well-being, encompassing housing stability, food security and mental health,” says Wood, UpTogether’s director of West Coast partnerships.
Wood says using ARPA funds for these types of programs offers a “wedge into understanding that this does work and can be done in a way that the public can acknowledge and support.”
And with each successful pilot program, the dial moves a little further in the right direction.
“If you can present evidence that people are using these investments to better their lives, to get ahead and that they are experiencing more housing stability and more well-being, that starts to make the case that we have to change our policies and we have to change the narrative,” Barnhart says.
“Working alongside the families and talking about their experiences, we can advocate for more funding for these programs around the county,” concludes Quintero.
Bev Britton graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and moved to the Bay Area with her soon-to-be husband Jim in 1986. She was features editor at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek before becoming managing editor of the Contra Costa Sun in Lafayette in 1995. She retired from newsrooms in 2001, but an ad for the Clayton Pioneer drew her back in. The family moved to Lake Wildwood in the Gold Country a few years ago - but working at the Pioneer keeps her in touch with her old neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.