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Mississippi Non-Profit Gives Low Income Mothers $1000 A Month

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Direct government payments to Americans have been a crucial economic lifeline in this pandemic. But one nonprofit in Jackson, Miss., has been running an experiment since 2018. What if their struggling neighbors got checks every month, month after month?

BRENITA BURNS: My name is Brenita Burns. I like to write, take long walks. I have a 10-year-old son. He's in fifth grade.

When you become a mom, basically, your whole world is really centered around your children. You do what you can and what you must for them, their safety. The choice was, OK, would I continue to work or to be a full-time mom to my son? And I chose to be a full-time mom.

AISHA NYANDORO: Brenita's being very humble. Brenita, you know, as a caregiver, caring for her son, caring for her mother - and those types of work are not seen nor rewarded nor compensated.

SIMON: That's Aisha Nyandoro of the group Springboard To Opportunities. They run programs for low-income families in federally subsidized housing. For years, she's been trying to figure out how to get mothers like Brenita Burns back on their feet.

NYANDORO: By and large, every example that our families gave us, the common denominator was cash. It could have been not having the financial resources necessary to pay for a uniform for the kids to participate in an extracurricular activity or not having the financial resources necessary to get a car fixed, so they could continue to go to and from their job.

BURNS: Miss Aisha came to us and just asked us a question. Like, what if you was given a thousand dollars a month income? What would you do? But then we was really looking like, what do you mean? And she was like, you know, well, what would you do? And you're still looking like, what's the catch, you know?

SIMON: In fact, there is no catch. Just $1,000 a month for 12 months. Plus, workshops are offered on everything from tax preparation to professional development. A hundred mothers are now enrolled. For Brenita Burns' cohort, which just wrapped up, the aid came at a particularly crucial time.

BURNS: When the pandemic did hit, just to know that we had that stability of receiving funds was golden. I didn't have to worry about where I was going to go to get help for bills or to maintain food for my son and shelter over our heads. So I would say the peace of mind was, like, the most important thing I had of 2020.

NYANDORO: Our moms indicated that they were more likely to get medical care that they needed, that they were seeing their kids succeed at a greater rate in school and able to provide the support that their kids needed to navigate the virtual reality. You know, just to give an example of one of our moms who used some of her resources this year to get a tutor for her kids.

There's nothing abnormal about what our families are wishing for. What is abnormal are the policies and the systems that we have put in place that make it virtually impossible for families within our country within a certain income bracket to go about actualizing those dreams.

BURNS: I want to become a homeowner, be able to save, be able to put my son - education, higher education, - college was on my mind, as well. I have to just, you know, remind him to keep going. And by looking at him, he reminds me to keep going. I want to become an aspiring writer. I want to be an advocate for women and their families. They have dreams just like I do.

SIMON: That's Brenita Burns. We also heard from Aisha Nyandoro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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