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Stacia Martin-West

Researchers Win Grant to Study Impact of Guaranteed Income Project

A duo of faculty researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the University of Pennsylvania have received a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evidence for Action grant of about $680,000 to evaluate an innovative project that could help alleviate poverty and inequality in Stockton, California.

Stacia Martin-West, an assistant professor in UT’s College of Social Work, along with Amy Castro Baker, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice, will use the funding to evaluate the impact of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), the country’s first city-led guaranteed income pilot program. SEED is a collaboration of the Stockton mayor’s office, the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, the Economic Security Project (ESP), and the residents of Stockton.

Through SEED, 125 Stockton families are getting $500 a month with no strings attached to see if guaranteed monthly income helps alleviate economic instability and inequity.

Willing Stockton residents were selected at random to participate; each participant is at least 18 years old and resides in a neighborhood where the median income is $46,033 or less.

The families began receiving the funding in February and will continue to get it through August 2020—a total of 18 months. The money comes largely from private donors.

“SEED is born out of the simple belief that the best investments we can make are in our people,” the project overview states. “A hand up rather than a handout, SEED seeks to empower its recipients financially and to prove to supporters and skeptics alike that poverty results from a lack of cash, not character.”

The RWJF Evidence for Action grant is supporting Martin-West and Baker for 36 months as they evaluate the program during the disbursement period and for about a year after the payments end.

The research with SEED recipients involves surveys, text-based data collection, and in-depth interviews. Researchers will look at the impact the money has on the families’ financial security, civic engagement, and health and wellness. They’ll evaluate participants’ psychological distress, physical functioning, food security, perceived stress and well-being, income volatility, family dynamics and parenting, material hardship, use of public benefits, health care utilization, and interactions with the child welfare system.

Martin-West led a study of the Dollywood Foundation’s My People Fund, which provided families who had lost their homes in the Gatlinburg fires with $1,000 a month for six months and a final gift of $5,000. In that case, she found that cash transfers, compared to specific donations, may be an important and underutilized approach to recovery following a natural disaster. Baker has done prior research on foreclosure and income instability looking at the impact of financial policies on racial disparities.

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