Arguing for policies that help the less fortunate becomes easier when evidence exists to show such efforts work.
And that’s why a program happening now in Santa Fe is so important.
At Santa Fe Community College, 100 students were selected by lottery in the fall to receive $400 a month — guaranteed. The recipients come from among the many SFCC students who are parents and who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s under $50,000 for a family of four.
The idea is to see whether students who have fewer financial worries will finish school — which, in turn, will lead to better jobs and a way out of poverty. Since September, the participants have been receiving their $400 monthly stipends.
Funded with $500,000 from the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income initiative, the effort is being studied by the University of Pennsylvania and its Center for Guaranteed Income Research. Soon, we’ll know what difference a cushion of cash makes for people living on the edge of poverty.
Participating cities designed programs individually.
Santa Fe’s focused on parents attempting to further their education. At the community college, at least one survey has shown 36 percent of students on campus have a child younger than 18. That’s compared nationally to estimates showing 22 percent of all college students are parents.
Higher education isn’t designed for parents, especially those who are taking classes, juggling child care and working two jobs just to make the bills. Any sudden expenses — a sick baby, expensive gasoline or a broken car — can derail studies, sometimes for good.
Parents often have to take their classes one or two at a time, prolonging the time it takes to get a degree. At SFCC, with 75 percent of students attending part time, it can take five to eight years for degree completetion to reach graduation. Many others don’t finish. This pilot is an attempt to find ways to help self-motivated people get past the finish line.
As a pilot — the college’s partner is the city of Santa Fe — it’s unclear whether it will continue. Mayor Alan Webber will have to persuade the City Council to sign on, perhaps using federal pandemic relief funds for three annual rounds of $500,000 for new cohorts of SFCC students. Private donations also could help keep the program going. Community support from a town where so many are well off certainly would be welcome.
In the end, if young people complete their degrees, work in fulfilling jobs and are able to raise their children in comfort, all of society prospers.
The governments that paid the basic incomes are repaid in taxes. The community wins because there are newly graduated nurses, auto mechanics, educators and others in the work force sooner because they didn’t have to take a break when cash dried up.
Of course, we don’t know how well the program has worked — yet. Data from the Santa Fe project is still being collected. With positive results, the mayor can make a stronger argument to councilors and the state at large. Evidence will come not just from Santa Fe, but from other participating cities.
Helping people out of generational poverty is complicated, or so we have believed. That may not always be true — maybe those complications can be eased with guaranteed cash. We’re finding out right now in Santa Fe.