A DC basic income program is letting people choose the amount on their checks. A participant said $1,400 a month is what she needs to pay medical bills. (2024)

For Deborah Ogarro Kelly, $1,400 a month is what she needs to cover household medical bills.

Kelly, 47, isn't able to work because she's the main caregiver for her husband, who is blind and has health issues. And since last fall, she's been a participant in a Washington DC-area guaranteed basic income program.

With her husband's SSDI disability benefit, the couple lives on a fixed income of under $2,000 each month, which is separate from their guaranteed basic income. However, she often worries about paying for their rent, groceries, and prescriptions.

Basic income has alleviated some of her financial anxiety, but she said "it's still not enough" to feel stable.

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"I want to be able to pay all my bills, and I want to handle my balance and not owe anybody," Kelly told Business Insider. "It's a lot, but I want to be able to work, and I want my husband to get all the resources that he needs."

The basic income program Kelly participates in is one of over 100 pilots across the US. Since 2019, GBI has become an increasingly popular strategy to address poverty. The model differs from traditional social services like SNAP or Medicaid because participants can choose how to spend their money.

"There's a reduction of barriers that guaranteed income provides and the real ability for someone to make the decision for their family about what's going to advance themselves," Shafeka Hashash, associate director of Guaranteed Income at the Economic Security Project, previously told BI. "I think guaranteed income is such a strong system."

CashRx, the guaranteed basic income pilot Kelly is participating in, is run by Bread for The City. The nonprofit provides medical, legal, food, and work assistance to low-income DC residents. All participants in the GBI cohort must be established patients at Bread for the City's medical clinic.

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The yearlong basic income program, which began payments in November 2023, allowed each of its five participants to choose the amount of their no-strings-attached monthly checks. Kelly chose $1,400 a month because it's what her family needs to offset out-of-pocket medical costs. Other participants chose between $1,100 and $1,400 a month.

The program's funding is provided through the Community Foundation's Health Equity Fund — a $95 million fund established to address health disparities in DC — and several grants.

Although Bread for the City hopes to eventually expand the GBI pilot to 10 participants, the program is intentionally small. In a spring program report provided to BI, the nonprofit said its goal is to improve health outcomes for its clients by addressing circ*mstances like economic instability and housing insecurity.

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CashRx follows Bread for the City's previous basic income program. It was an implementation partner for THRIVE East of the River, a basic income pilot that gave $5,500 to about 600 low-income families in DC between summer 2020 and winter 2022.

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Kelly still worries about money, but basic income makes her feel less "stuck"

Kelly feels like her expenses keep growing. Many of her husband's medications and appointments are out-of-pocket, and she also has to pay for her own healthcare needs. The couple has Medicaid, but insurance doesn't cover everything.

She pays several thousand dollars in rent for her apartment, and she's not sure what she'll do if her landlord raises the price or doesn't renew their month-to-month lease. She has tried to apply for a rental assistance voucher because of her husband's medical conditions but hasn't been granted one.

"Where are we going to go if the money runs out in that situation?" Kelly said. "We don't have anything stable."

For food, Kelly said she and her husband qualify for some assistance through SNAP, but it's just over $100 a month and usually isn't enough to pay for groceries.

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On top of that, she said it's difficult to find money to pay for their transportation, cellphone bills, household necessities, and the storage unit they need for their belongings.

Costs are still a concern, but Kelly said basic income has been the financial help she and her husband needed to keep supporting themselves. She still hopes she can go back to work someday. Her husband would enjoy working too, so Kelly is hoping he can get the support he needs to maintain a part-time job.

"We've gotten a lot of things straight as far as health and getting our mouths fed," Kelly said. "If it wasn't for Bread for the City, we would still be stuck."

Participants report that GBI has helped them improve their mental health

Similar to Kelly, DC basic income participants have told Bread for the City that cash payments allowed them to afford housing and utilities, start saving toward emergency funds, spend more time with family, and improve their mental health, per Bread for the City's spring program report.

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One participant told Bread for the City that they were able to get prescription eye glasses for their child, while others were able to buy ingredients for food that better matches their preferences and cultures.

As basic income programs across the US face legislative opposition from Republican lawmakers, Kelly wishes more people understood that they can give people a chance to afford their basic needs. She's grateful for the assistance right now. And, at some point, she knows someone else will need help too.

"You give people a chance, and you see what they're going to do, they do the right thing," Kelly said. "And once I get on my feet, then you can pass it on to the next person."

Have you benefitted from a guaranteed basic income program? Are you open to sharing your story? If so, reach out to allisonkelly@businessinsider.com.

A DC basic income program is letting people choose the amount on their checks. A participant said $1,400 a month is what she needs to pay medical bills. (2024)

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