Melissa Harris-Perry: We're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We turned now to the State of Georgia, where a new guaranteed income program is scheduled for launch in the coming weeks. In Her Hands is a partnership between the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity or GRO Fund and GiveDirectly, who are planning to supply 650 Black women across Georgia with $850 a month over the course of two years. The project came to be after a task force of community members examined the root of economic insecurity and wealth disparities.
In Her Hands will direct $13 million, with hopes of addressing some of the highest income inequality in the nation. We're joined now by Hope Wollensack, executive director of the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund and co-director of the In Her Hands initiative. Hope, it's great to have you here.
Hope Wollensack: Thank you so much for having me on.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Clearly, you don't find yourself in this position because your first name is Hope, but it is a great first name for being in this position. I'm wondering what you are hoping this initiative will in fact do in Georgia and for Black women specifically?
Hope Wollensack: Yes, that's a great question. I think what I'm hoping this will accomplish is embedded also in the name of the program, In Her Hands. In the late 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King said that, "The dignity of the individual will flourish when matters concerning his life are in his hands." He continues on to talk about a number of policies and programs around economic security, including a guaranteed income, so we named this program In Her Hands and honor that.
One, this means putting cash in the hands of women so that they have greater agency and choice, especially for Black women and women broadly who have experienced really some of the [unintelligible 00:01:49] causes of our economic insecurity in our economy. Too is that this program is designed by and for community members. It's not just designed for them, but it designed actually with community members. The design of this program is in our hands. Then finally that policy should really be driven by those who are most impacted by the problem.
We really want to think about those who've been pushed to the margins, have the widest view of the world, and they really have the most to teach the world about the solutions to those problems, and so they should really have the power in their hands to shape and drive those solution. We view it as both how we think about guaranteed income, let's say, but our goals are also that this shifts the paradigm on how we approach society's deepest problems and who should be in positions of power around them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. Let's talk about, first, guaranteed income. I know we've been hearing about it more in recent years as both pilot program in Stockton, California, an actual city led program that emerged under the former Mayor Michael Tubbs, but help us to understand what guaranteed income is and how it's different from other kinds of cash transfer programs.
Hope Wollensack: Yes. A guaranteed income is typically an unconditional cash transfer program that provide, at least for a short period of time, these pilots and income floor. What we've heard from community members and that King realized over nearly 60 years ago is that it is very difficult to make choices about your life. It is very difficult to have mid-term and long-term planning about your life when you're facing constant and for long scarcity. We're not talking about a couple missed paychecks, we're talking about years upon years, generations of cash scarcity and financial scarcity.
An income floor really provides that stability for people to make choices about their lives and their future that we anticipate will have ripple effects for their children and across generations and certainly across communities. When we say guaranteed income, it's usually a focused economic support or focused direct financial support to members of the community, let's say, below an income threshold or within a geographic area. We really think of this as--
It may be different for different communities. It has an equity lens to it that different groups and communities are facing different economic challenges that are systemic, and so maybe we have a guaranteed income that actually recognizes those different challenges that exist across groups.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's where I want to go next, is I can imagine some folks were like, "Wait, what? Why is it going to just one category of persons, Black women?" If you could talk a bit about that. Also, maybe tell us how you define Black women?
Hope Wollensack: Yes. The focus on Black women really had three rationale. One was that it came from the community task force. When we looked at the root causes of economic insecurity in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, that's where King was born, across Atlanta, across our state, across the country, what we really saw is that economic insecurity is pervasive.
It is felt by many different groups across our country and takes hold and manifests in various different ways depending on what your identity might be and what your income is. Certainly not just people in poverty, economic and security, even extends well up into the middle class, the famous statistics that most Americans can't afford a $400 emergency.
What we saw in particular in this neighborhood and in Georgia that might likely resonate in many places across the country is that Black women face particularly acute systemic challenges when it comes to achieving economic security. We know Black women make 63 cents in the dollar compared to the white male counterparts. In Georgia, they're twice as likely to live in poverty as white women. They're also one of the most likely groups to get stuck in poverty.
These are not because of individual bad choices, it is because there is a system that is set up that makes it really hard to do well and to thrive. Of course, Black women are resilient and resourceful, even at times when we shouldn't have to be as resilient as we are. Really, the focus on Black women was, one, a recommendation from the community members, two, looking at the data, and then three, we know that when we invest in Black women, were really creating an economy, a society where everyone can feel by focusing on those who have been most marginalized both historically and ongoing.
This is where the focus on Black women came from, and we hope that these programs can continue to grow, continue to focus on more groups and continue to generate learnings that hopefully won't just be one program, but we'll reverberate into policy.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Say one more word on who Black women are? Does this include CIS and trans women? Does it include Black women who are maybe domestically born, but also perhaps those who are immigrants? I'm just wondering how expansive the definition is.
Hope Wollensack: Thank you for asking. It includes all women, CIS and trans women, and then race is self-identified, so it includes all Black women.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Hope, I want to think a bit about the connections between economic well-being and political capacity, in part because obviously all lives have been on Georgia over the course of the past year, maybe two years, and largely in a political realm, asking questions about voter turnout, about the high levels of voter registration. I'm wondering whether or not you see connections between economic health and political health for a state like Georgia?
Hope Wollensack: Absolutely. King even spoke about this in his final book Chaos or Community? He talked a lot about the connection between our democratic choices, financial freedom, and economic freedom. Democratic freedoms are quite shallow and maybe lack choice, that we don't actually have financial and economic freedoms, as he was talking about a guaranteed income.
I think the same is true here today, when we are so focused on how we will pay the rent, put clothing on our children's back, again, not just for short periods of time, but for long, extended periods of time in people's lives, it is very difficult to advocate for yourself, for your community, to think about really ambitious changes community. The community members that we spoke to, we talked to them not only about their challenges, but their ambitions for their community, but those can seem often very far off and very difficult to achieve, again, if we're worried about our economic security in the short term.
When we think about, really, what will change things, both engage people, and we're excited to learn about what will engage people in their community when they have a guaranteed income; is their civic engagement increased, what changes can they advocate for in their community, but also this link between our civic freedoms and our financial freedoms and what that means for actually a thriving society where everyone has what they need.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, I know that part of the concern here was both the realities of income inequality, but also of wealth inequality. The wealth inequality gap for between basically white Americans and both African Americans and Latino households is enormous. It's gaping. It grows and it seems to grow-- not just seems to, it empirically has grown over time, even as income inequality has narrowed, at least narrowed some. I'm wondering, on the one hand, this seems extraordinarily impactful for each individual household, but can $850 a month truly make a difference when it comes to the problem of the wealth gap?
Hope Wollensack: We view this program and any potential policies that might be similar to a guaranteed income as one piece of a multi-faceted and multi-layered policy change and infrastructure change that really helps to close the racial wealth gap. Certainly income stability and rising incomes can be a powerful tool in providing a buffer against wealth decelerators or the things that often take away wealth from Black households and households of color, but we're not quite sure how much it will do in terms of a wealth accelerator.
Being able to access resources, that would increase your household wealth. No single policy will be a panacea. That when we actually think about this holistically across many different policy areas, across many domains, that's when we can probably get some traction on the racial wealth gap. This is one crucial piece to that, but it would be probably a suite of policies that would do that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, how are households identified for participation in the program?
Hope Wollensack: Our focus is on Black women within three geographies in Georgia. We're one of the first statewide programs. We'll be starting in the Old Fourth Ward. We'll be doing lots of outreach to community members in the Old Fourth Ward and working with community-based organizations. We'll also be reaching out to women in Southwest Georgia. This is a rural area of Georgia.
We're the only guaranteed income program to include or to focus on rural areas, which we think is really important and really important learnings if we're thinking about how this might translate into policy. We'll be working there. Again, outreach, talking to folks, talking to those in churches. We have a focus on a couple of counties down there. Then in the Atlanta suburbs as well. We'll be doing outreach in the communities that we're focused on.
This community-based approach is really important to us. That way we can actually talk to people, explain the program, answer any concerns that they may have about the program or how it may impact their life and be a support in that way where needed. It'll be eligible women, low-income women in these three different geographies, and we'll be doing heavy outreach, but folks are also welcome to visit our website, the grofund.org, that's the grofund.org, as the application will be up on the website early this year.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That's the output side, talk to me about the input side. Where did you all get $13 million?
Hope Wollensack: [chuckles] We've been really grateful for a diverse group of donors who've really supported this work and believed in it. This is a philanthropically-funded program. We would love to see if programs like these can get additional public funding. Obviously, there was a child tax care credit, which functioned a bit like a guaranteed income. Many states have an earned income tax credit. About 30 states have an earned income tax credit. Federal government does as well. Georgia is one of 20 states that does not. We're philanthropically-funded, but we would love to see if there could be additional public dollars towards direct financial assistance for those most in need in our community.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Last question here, as you're looking at Black women, is this also a program that is going to focus specifically on Black mothers? I'm wondering here, as folks are identified, as you're thinking about this-- I know government programs have frequently invested exclusively in people who are parenting solo, which is obviously a space of critical need. There has sometimes been critiques that those programs mean that people who are in committed relationships or who are married, who are also economically marginal don't have access to these kinds of programs, or that women who are not themselves parents may not have access. I'm wondering how you were thinking about family structure as part of this as well.
Hope Wollensack: Yes. We want it to be as inclusive as possible in terms of family structure. Folks who are partnered, unpartnered, have children, are not parents, all are welcome to participate in this program. We think that it's important that--
Many different groups are experiencing this pretty significant economic strain, and so we wanted to make sure that our program was inclusive, not only to help provide a relatively short-term two-year financial support for those enrolled in the program, but also so that these voices are a part of a critical policy discussion on what economic security looks like. Not just for those with children and for those who are married, but for those who may be single, without children. Also because we often view those as really stagnant aspects of people's life, but those change all the time.
Although well-meaning, the programs that overly focus on someone's household status can exclude certain groups of people and then those groups of people are often the last to receive support, if they receive any at all, and it's often very little.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Thank you. Hope Wollensack is the executive director of the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity Fund and co-director of the In Her Hands initiative. Hope, thanks for joining us.
Hope Wollensack: Thanks so much for having me.
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