- Rachel, a mother of two, moved back in with her mom after her husband died eight years ago.
- A guaranteed income program started giving her $500 a month in September, and will through next March.
- The program, which targets low-income caregivers, has given her more spending flexibility.
When Rachel’s husband died in a motorcycle accident eight years ago, her life was uprooted.
After emptying her bank account to pay for the funeral, Rachel — now 42 — and her two young kids moved out of Boston, Massachusetts, where her husband had worked as a paramedic. Her best friend bought her out of the small business they’d co-founded, and Rachel moved in with her mother in Cambridge, in an apartment three blocks away from where she grew up.
Rachel, whose last name is known to Insider but omitted here for privacy reasons, told Insider that she suffered from
for a long time after her husband died. When the time came for her to look for a full-time job, however, she realized that she wanted to focus all of her time and energy on being a parent.
“I wanted to be the mom who brings home pizza on Fridays, goes to PTA meetings, brings supplies to school functions and shows up to every event,” she said. She mostly pays the bills with income from remodeling work she does during the summers, various side gigs, and her late husband’s life insurance and social security payments. But finances are still not where they used to be when her husband was alive. Rachel’s mother is retired.
A program helping low-income families in Cambridge opened up options for Rachel and her kids. Her mother came home last year with a flier she’d found advertising Cambridge Recurring Income for Success + Empowerment, known as Cambridge RISE, a guaranteed income pilot giving 130 single caretakers $500 a month for 18 months. The payments are no-strings-attached, meaning recipients can do whatever they want with the money. Recipients do, however, need an income below 80% of Cambridge’s Area Median Income (AMI), which ranges between $70,750 for a one person household and $133,400 for one of eight.
Guaranteed income programs like Cambridge RISE have been growing in popularity in recent years, especially as the pandemic has exacerbated financial problems for low-income households. As of last December, there were 33 active, or recently active, guaranteed income programs in the US. Research shows that cash from guaranteed income programs improves long-term financial stability and health for its participants. Insider has reported on recipients who were able to find permanent housing through guaranteed income funds, reduce medical debt, and help others in their communities.
“Through my check-ins with residents many shared now having some ‘breathing room’ month to month, and being able to pay back debt, take their children to outings, and even save a bit,” Jackie Dabo, Cambridge RISE’s Project Director, told Insider.
Rachel, for instance, has been receiving regular payments since September. She says that it’s allowed her to invest in her children’s academic interests, fix her car, and pay for supplies that she says improves her family’s quality of life.
“We know single caretaker families in Cambridge are struggling, are well below the Cambridge poverty line, and the impact to single mothers and women of color are even higher,” Sumbul Siddiqui, Cambridge’s mayor, said upon launching the program in September. “We need a financial vaccine for Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents.”
More money means more freedom for her kids to explore their passions
Rachel splits the rent with her mom, so she has the bulk of her RISE stipends to spend on her kids, she said.
Using the money to fix her car means she can take them to doctor’s appointments and school. It’s also meant that she has more breathing room when grocery shopping, and can buy stuff for her kids’ rooms: two beds from IKEA, a bookcase for her daughter, and even materials to make her room look like a fantasy version of outer space.
They bought cardboard boxes, then affixed cotton balls and string lights on them to set the scene. They also play rainstorm sounds through a speaker to make it feel like they’re in nature.
“My son is really interested in coding and computer science,” she said. “So we’re looking to get him in a boot camp in the area this summer at MIT.” She said that during the pandemic, remote learning was difficult for her son, and his grades suffered, but she’s hoping that programs such as the boot camp will be intellectually stimulating for him.
Her daughter, who is eight, wants to be a pediatrician, and so Rachel also uses the funds to buy books that foster an interest in science. And of course with kids there are always miscellaneous costs like soccer equipment for after-school programs. The RISE funds mean there’s no hard choice between cleats for her daughter one week and a winter jacket the next.
“Whatever people do with their money from the program, I hope it’s positive,” Rachel said. “It might not seem like a lot, but it does so much.”