“When will you all tell us, we won’t get the money next month because of the virus?”
This simple text from Brandy sent me over the edge emotionally. Brandy is one of the mothers involved in the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a program that has been providing $1,000 a month in cash to black mothers with no strings attached since 2018.
Last Friday, in the second iteration of the project, 80 mothers in Jackson, Miss. received their first check. Given the coronavirus crisis, the timing in fact could not have been more fortuitous. It is a relief to know that there are 80 mothers in my community who now can be a little less worried about how they are going to provide for their families’ basic needs in the coming weeks and months as we address the uncertain new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These women are already seeing the impact of the virus with schools closed, limited safe child-care options, work hours being cut; the coming months will be stressful for all of us, but for many the impact will be devastating.
The coronavirus crisis puts millions of Americans in similar straits. When we come through to the other side of this, we cannot just return to business as usual. We will need to take real, tangible steps to make sure all American families have access to the financial supports they need. The Trump administration is pushing for every American to receive $2,000 in an attempt to blunt the economic toll the coronavirus will take — though that is far less relief than most of the proposed policies, and a drop in the bucket to American families facing months of financial instability. But it is a start.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. social welfare system and policies surrounding low-income families were inadequate and problematic. Now, in this time of crisis, those problems are exacerbated. Low-wage workers have had no opportunity to build savings, and they also are the ones without access to paid leave or the ability to work at home. Government benefits that already do not provide an adequate amount of money for monthly food bills will be even less helpful as children will now eat 10 additional meals at home that were being provided by now-closed school systems.
The coronavirus presents Americans with the unique opportunity to rewire the systems that have not served the most vulnerable in our society.
The coronavirus presents Americans with the unique opportunity to rewire the systems that have not served the most vulnerable in our society. This crisis is showing us just how precarious millions of folks are — one missed paycheck away from eviction, one cut shift away from not putting food on the table, one unexpected car repair away from losing their transportation. This is why we recognized the unparalleled impact that $1,000 in cash every month would provide, and began the Magnolia Mother’s Trust.
If any good can come of this unprecedented health crisis, it’s a recognition across political party lines that Americans are deserving. Financial precarity is not a moral failing, but a structural one. Through this fire we can forge a new system.
Politicians including Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Cory Booker are introducing bold new proposals to send cash infusions that offer immediate relief to individuals and households. Most of these plans are based on the work of the Economic Security Project, a funder of Magnolia Mother’s Trust and the organization behind Emergency Money to the People, an immediate cash infusion that would offer relief to individuals and households, covering 75% of Americans, while also boosting the U.S. economy.
The plan would be administered through the IRS, which already has the infrastructure to distribute the funds, providing a $2,000 immediate cash payment to American adults and children. The proposal calls for additional cash payments should the coronavirus crisis extend or if the national unemployment rate increases. These payments would phase out for higher-income taxpayers.
With the Magnolia Mother’s Trust we have already demonstrated the power of cash. When I texted Brandy to inform her that the money would not stop, and that she would continue to receive it monthly as promised, she called me crying. “You all just don’t know what a blessing this is, I have already lost my job.”
This is a time for Americans to put partisan divides aside and recognize that the coronavirus pandemic presents our nation with an unprecedented economic challenge — one that must be met with bold, effective and swift action.
Aisha Nyandoro is CEO of Springboard To Opportunities, a nonprofit affordable-housing service organization in Jackson, Miss.