Santa Fe will take part in an important national experiment that seeks to show how money can make a difference to people living on the edge of poverty.

It stems from a basic premise: To help poor people, give them money.

This is not about a universal basic income but, rather, a guaranteed income. Each month, a few hundred dollars are deposited into a bank account for people who are struggling. The cushion enables them to pay a high electric bill during a hot summer, cover unexpected medical costs or fix the car so they don’t miss work. Such an infusion prevents an unexpected expense from sabotaging their lives.

In Santa Fe, the city has received a grant from the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income project — $500,000 — and is partnering with Santa Fe Community College to distribute money to young students with children. The proposal goes to the City Council at the end of the month.

Councilors should endorse it.

The idea is to make certain students don’t have to choose between school and taking care of their children, dropping out or delaying completing their degree or certificate program.

With degrees and certificates, individuals are better able to make a good living. Numbers from 2018 show graduates with an associate degree make about $6,000 more per year than students with a high school diploma. That keeps individuals above the poverty line and brings stability to their lives. The city will match the $500,000 grant with an additional $175,000 in community fundraising and hopes to be able to provide $500 a month starting in the fall to help 100 families.

Payments will be distributed through the Santa Fe Community College Foundation. The program starts in the fall, with fundraising for the community portion already taking place. Santa Fe residents should show they support this kind of assistance by reaching for their wallets.

We’ll be in good company. Mayor Alan Webber placed the city in a coalition of more than 25 mayors committed to piloting basic guaranteed income programs across the country. The cash supplements the existing social safety net, especially as the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic that revealed how close to the edge so many people live.

The Federal Reserve reported in 2019 that 40 percent of American families could not afford a $400 emergency, with Black and Hispanic families experiencing higher rates of financial distress after a job loss or unexpected expenses. Regular cash payments can change that equation, as a pilot program in Stockton, Calif., has demonstrated.

Two years ago, Stockton officials decided to distribute $500 a month to 125 people for 24 months, choosing people at random from neighborhoods at or below the city’s median household income. Then, researchers studied the impact on people who received the cash.

Perhaps the most stunning result was this: People who received cash payments obtained full-time jobs at more than twice the rate of people in a control group who did not receive money. In Santa Fe, the goal will be for students to complete school. That makes them better able to earn a living and care for their families. Education remains the ticket out of poverty, and these payments will help cover the fare.

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