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New Mexico’s Basic Income Experiment: $500 Monthly Aid Helps Immigrant Families Pay Rent and Secure Jobs


The goal of the basic income pilot in New Mexico was to fill a hole in the American financial safety net: a lot of newcomers can’t get help.

During the pandemic, most of the aid was only given to US citizens. This meant that undocumented households and families with mixed citizenship status did not get any stimulus money, rental help, or unemployment checks.

As the need for money grew, New Mexico community leaders chose to try something new: giving cash without any conditions.

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

Starting in February 2022, the guaranteed income program helped 330 mixed-immigration status households. Each participant got $500 a month for a year with no strings attached. Fifty randomly chosen households also got an extra six months of payments.

The program was run by the New Mexico Economic Relief Working Group, which was made up of community groups and nonprofits like Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Voices for Children, and UpTogether. Private donors and charities provided the money.

The new pilot is one of more than 100 that have started across the US since 2019. These programs are different from traditional social services because they let families choose how to spend their money. People who have taken part have told BI that they have used cash payments to support their families, pay rent, buy groceries, and pay off debt.

One of the first basic income programs to run at the state level and especially help immigrant families is in New Mexico.

The success of the pilot program has also given people in the region hope for more basic income programs. In February, the New Mexico House passed a new state-funded pilot cash program for people in workforce training programs. The $1 million project, which is now waiting for approval by the state Senate, would help participants pay for housing, food, and transportation for three years.

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

Mixed-status households in 13 counties across New Mexico were served by the pilot program. Because the program was state-wide, people in both rural and urban places could benefit.

Almost all of the pilot volunteers were families with children. Ninety-five percent said they had to use savings to pay their bills, 85% said they were worried about their housing, and seventy-four percent didn’t have health insurance.

Before the pilot began, participants in rural areas were less likely to have access to food and housing than participants in cities. However, after the program ended, participants in cities had better job prospects and higher incomes. By the end of the pilot, 13% fewer urban participants skipped basic needs to pay for housing.

The kids of people who took part were also more likely to be learning at grade level and on track to finish than they were before the basic income.

Additionally, a woman in Doña Ana County said that getting a smartphone made her job safer.

“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 said. “With the help of my new phone, I’ve been able to set up more appointments and create a more stable work schedule.”

Republican lawmakers are still trying to stop basic income across the US because they say it will make low-income people too dependent on government aid.

Rojo, on the other hand, said that the results of the New Mexico pilot show that participants became more involved in the job market with the help of cash payments. Some families said they used their basic income to get the childcare or transportation they needed to work full-time.

As time goes on, he wants basic income to be used to help low-income families at the city, state, and federal levels.

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

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