The Board receives a briefing on the success of the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project in its first year – Multnomah County | CarTailz

November 3, 2022

Nearly 100 black mothers are receiving a basic income thanks to a new county program known as the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project. On Tuesday, November 1, the project leaders briefed the Board of Commissioners on the impact of the first year of the program.

The program serves approximately 100 Black female-headed households with children who currently receive services through the Black parent initiative or WomenFirst programs. Families receive an unconditional basic income of around US$500 per month.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for programs like the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project. The pandemic’s disproportionate economic impact on black households exacerbated already existing racial wealth disparities. Created by the Multnomah Idea Lab, the program aims to bring long-term stability to Black mothers and their families. A second phase of the program is scheduled to begin on Monday November 7th.

“When I think about what the Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project is and can be, I think about the wellbeing of African American people, especially African American women,” said Ebonee Bell, who coordinates the program.

National and international research shows that strategies such as unconditional remittances, basic income, debt reduction and wealth accumulation can be effective in reducing the racial wealth gap. Program leaders say that when anti-poverty programs trust low-income people to know what they need — and those programs provide direct, unconditional access to financial resources — program participants experience an improvement in their quality of life, economic stability, and their children’s educational success .

An example is Baby’s first years, a randomized controlled trial measuring the benefits of poverty alleviation on family life and the cognitive, emotional, and brain development of infants and young children. Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, another proxy for unconditional cash transfers, has also led to a 30% drop in child poverty nationwide.

Multnomah County also has some additional unconditional money transfer programs through Healthy Birth Initiatives. 72 percent of participants reported an increase in well-being, and all participants reported spending their money on basic needs.

“By giving people an unrestricted income, we are giving them back the power, sovereignty and autonomy to make decisions about themselves and to be treated as adults in ways that government and society at large have taken away from them.” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

The Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project began recruiting 100 participants from the Black Parent Initiative and WomenFirst programs. Earlier this year, the program began distributing $500 in monthly payments and kept a record of how the money was spent. Participants who provided monthly financial information received an additional $50 per month.

“From our point of view, it is the investment of a county resource and a public dollar that brings two-fold benefits: both the immediate ban on basic needs and debt reduction, and the other ancillary benefits, which are the long-term benefits,” said Mary Li, who Leads Multnomah Idea Lab.

Bahia Overton, executive director of the Black Parent Initiative, said she was skeptical at first.

“I said, ‘That sounds like a staging,'” she said. “‘Why are we getting unrestricted funds? And will they say these poor blacks can’t make it? How will that play out?’”

After learning more about the program model, she decided to proceed with the project. She let all participants know that the money was unrestricted. She also made sure everyone knew about the Black Parent Initiative’s financial education courses, which 90 percent of moms attended.

Program managers said participants used the funds to cover utility payments, medical problems and other family emergencies, college tuition for their children, rent payments, late utility payments, unexpected car repairs and even a birthday party for their child.

One participant used the money to help buy a home. Another bought her first washer and dryer. Not having to make extra trips to the laundromat provided a balance for her, Overton said, leading to more stability in the family.

“All the moms have talked about how grateful they are to have that pillow, that it meant everything to them,” Overton said. “It made a big difference.”

Shannon Olive, executive director of WomenFirst, said she was skeptical at first. She wasn’t sure if the program was truly unconditional or if there would be a catch. But after learning more, she wants it replicated across Multnomah County.

Most WomenFirst participants are on their way out of prison, recovering from addiction, or recovering from other trauma. Olive believed they would benefit from unrestricted funds by regaining some stability in their lives.

Throughout the program, WomenFirst surveyed participants on how they used the funds. All participants have either started or paid into emergency funds. Some paid rent, utilities or other bills. Others paid for child care, after-school programs, and other important activities for their children.

“All of our participants have benefited greatly from this program,” said Olive. “We at WomenFirst will continue to be committed to the well-being and success of our participants, and we hope you will continue to listen and help continue to meet the needs of our women.”

The second phase of the project will start on November 7th. Program leaders will add programs focused on home ownership and debt reduction. In the coming weeks, a cohort of women will work to design a program to help people navigate the homeownership process.

“I just want to say how proud I am that Multnomah County is always on the cutting edge of doing things outside of the box.” Commissioner Lori Stegman said. “You are all perfect examples of that.”

The program directors have selected the participants for the next program. The Multnomah Mothers’ Trust Project also hopes to enroll more black families and provide access for Indigenous and Pacific Islanders.

In the long term, the program is to be expanded by at least 100 participants. Philanthropic organizations have also expressed an interest in getting involved in wealth accumulation. Commissioners said they are supporting the work to find additional sources of funding.

“These strategies are core strategies of Multnomah County,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “Over time I would be very supportive of incorporating them into strategies supported by the General Fund.”

Commissioner Sharon Meieran reiterated their support. “I absolutely agree that this ties into our core mission as a county and I want to see how we can sustain that work. because that predictability is really key,” she said.

Leave a Comment