- Christine, a woman from Compton, California, gets $1,800 every three months through a basic income program.
- The guaranteed income program is the largest one in the country, and helps 800 low-income families like Christine’s.
- She told Insider it helped her get a car, a job, rebuild her credit, move into a new neighborhood, and get her kids into childcare.
Christine and her daughter both got COVID in January. It was bad timing.
The 45-year-old native of Compton, California, told Insider that her five-year-old had a preexisting respiratory illness, and the risks were just too high. She had to take an indefinite medical leave from her job as a bus driver for the LA Metro. That also meant school wasn’t an option for her daughter.
“I was going through this time when I had no money, we were stuck at home, and I couldn’t pay any bills,” Christine told Insider, asking that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons. “And I still hadn’t received an unemployment check.”
But in January 2021, Christine got an email that changed everything. It was from something called the Compton Pledge and it said that the city would send her $1,800 every three months, no strings attached. She remembered that while seeking treatment for drug addiction years earlier, she had put her name down on an email list, but she had no idea it would be for Compton’s version of a universal basic income.
“I asked my pastor, ‘is this real?'” she said. “And he said it was legitimate.”
The Compton Pledge, an initiative from the Compton mayor’s office, is the largest city-based guaranteed income program in the US. The group has dispersed $4 million in funding so far, out of the $9.2 million they’ve raised. Currently, they’re supporting 800 low-income households in Compton through a lottery program, each of which will receive funds for two years.
“I was finally able to pay rent and have money in my pocket for necessities,” Christine said. “It was such a blessing.”
After years of economic need, some relief
Long before she got COVID, Christine needed economic assistance. After a boyfriend was killed in a drive-by shooting, she struggled with drug addiction and long hours working as a waitress. She started seeing a man who cooked meth, and became hooked on it herself. She got pregnant and had a son.
Christine got clean, and remained that way for five years, before she relapsed with a partner who began trafficking her. She felt exploited and overwhelmed, eventually leaving him and becoming homeless. She left her son in the care of a friend with the intention of retrieving him a few weeks later. By the time she rehabilitated herself years after, however, she’d lost custody of him, and he wasn’t interested in being reunited.
While homeless, Christine had a second child, her daughter. She contacted a caseworker and started a program called Shields for Families, a community-based nonprofit that provides housing, counseling, and other social services to families in need.
While Christine was at Shields three years ago, former Mayor Aja Brown came to visit. That’s when Christine put her name down to apply for the Compton Pledge.
With the help of her Pledge money, Christine has managed to keep her head above water — and take real steps toward financial security.
She was able to buy a car, for instance, which she uses to earn money as an UberEats driver in her new neighborhood of Koreatown. Christine said that given her financial background, no one would have loaned her money before Compton Pledge gave her a foot in the door.
“I was able to put down $4,000 after saving a few of my Compton Pledges,” she said. “No one cares about your financial history when you can put down that much. They gave me the loan for the car, and in effect, my credit is actually better.”
The group behind Compton Pledge argues that guaranteed income funds are vital to addressing the problems with government welfare programs, which it says are often underfunded and come with strings attached.
“Guaranteed income makes a case for investing in our undocumented neighbors and formerly incarcerated residents,” Nika Soon-Shiong, a Compton Pledge co-director, told Insider. Not all formerly incarcerated and undocumented people have access to welfare benefits.
“In doing so, it addresses the reality of the nation’s fragmented, punitive welfare structure,” she said.
This year, guaranteed income programs like Compton Pledge have seen a surge in popularity throughout the US. At least 11 direct-cash experiments will come into effect by the end of the year, Bloomberg CityLab reported in January. Dozens of US mayors, for instance, joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income this year.
Funds from the Compton Pledge do not impact one’s other benefits, and its payments aren’t taxable. The payments also aren’t considered to be “public charge,” which affects some immigrants’ abilities to become American citizens.
Because Christine’s access to food stamps and other welfare benefits weren’t affected, she had more disposable income. In addition to providing for her own family, Christine has been helping others in her community by starting a nonprofit — Compton Homeless Outreach. She and her church provide food and toiletries to the homeless population of Compton, as well as life coaching for people transitioning out of homelessness.
“There are people who look at the Compton Pledge and think, ‘Why are you helping people who won’t help themselves?'” Christine said, but she’s living proof that isn’t true. “This is helping me help other people.”
Do you have a story to share about guaranteed income? Reach out to Jason Lalljee at email@example.com.