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  5. New Mexico experimented with a basic income program that gave $500 a month to immigrant families. They used the money to pay rent and secure jobs.

New Mexico experimented with a basic income program that gave $500 a month to immigrant families. They used the money to pay rent and secure jobs.

Allie Kelly   

New Mexico experimented with a basic income program that gave $500 a month to immigrant families. They used the money to pay rent and secure jobs.
  • New Mexico's basic income pilot provided $500 monthly to 330 immigrant households.
  • Pandemic relief excluded many immigrants, leading to economic hardship for undocumented families.

New Mexico's basic income pilot set out to fill a gap in America's financial safety net: many immigrants aren't able to access help.

Pandemic-era relief was largely restricted to US citizens, leaving undocumented households and families with mixed citizenship status without stimulus, rental assistance, or unemployment checks.

With growing economic need, community leaders in New Mexico decided to try a different strategy — no-strings-attached cash payments.

"Mixed-status immigrant families don't always enjoy the same public benefits that other families and workers do because of their status," Marcela Díaz, executive director of economic justice organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido, told Business Insider. "What does it look like for them to have an extra $500 a month? How does it affect food security, their health, their well-being, and educational outcomes?"

Beginning in February 2022, the guaranteed income program served 330 mixed-immigration status households. Participants received $500 a month, no strings attached, for a full year. Fifty randomly selected households had their payments extended for an additional six months.

The New Mexico Economic Relief Working Group — a coalition of community organizations and nonprofits, including Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Voices for Children, and UpTogether — administered the program, and funding came from private donors and philanthropy.

The pilot joins the ranks of over 100 basic income pilots that have launched across the US since 2019. In contrast to traditional social services, the programs allow families to choose how they spend the money. Participants have told BI they have used cash payments to pay rent, afford groceries, pay off debt, and support their families.

New Mexico's program is among the first basic income programs to operate at the state level and to specifically serve immigrant households.

The pilot's success has also provided momentum for future basic income programs in the region. A new state-funded pilot cash program for people enrolled in workforce training programs passed in the New Mexico House in February. The $1 million project, which seeks approval in the state Senate, would help participants cover housing, food, and transportation for three years.

"People use the money to feed themselves and to keep a roof over their head," Javier Rojo, senior research and policy analyst with New Mexico Voices for Children and author of the pilot report, told BI. "They use it very wisely to put themselves in a better position economically in the future."

With basic income, participants saw improved employment and education outcomes

The New Mexico pilot served mixed-status households in 13 counties across the state. The program's state-level scope allowed participants in both rural and urban areas to benefit.

Almost all pilot participants were families with children. Ninety-five percent reported having to use household savings to pay bills, 85% reported being housing insecure, and 74% lacked health insurance.

Before the pilot began, participants in rural areas experienced higher housing and food insecurity than urban participants but also saw better employment incomes after the program concluded. Basic income reduced the amount of urban participants who skipped basic necessities to pay for housing by 13% by the end of the pilot.

The children of participants were also more likely to be learning at their grade level and on track to graduate than before the basic income.

A woman in Doña Ana County also said her job security improved because she was able to buy a cell phone.

"I clean houses. At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn't have a phone, so it was very difficult for me to connect with potential clients," she told researchers, "With the help of my new phone, I've been able to set up more appointments and create a more stable work schedule."

Republican legislatures continue to seek to ban basic income across the US, saying it will make low-income Americans too reliant on government assistance.

Rojo, however, said the New Mexico pilot results show that participants became more active in the labor market with the support of cash payments. Some families reported using their basic income to secure the transportation or childcare they needed to support a full-time work schedule.

Going forward, he would like to continue seeing basic income used at the city, state, and federal level to support low-income families.

"People know best what their needs are and people know how to use their money to better themselves," he said. "Trust them."

Have you benefitted from a guaranteed basic income program? Are you open to sharing how you spent the money? If so, reach out to this reporter at allisonkelly@businessinsider.com.


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