GROW: Empowering Philadelphia’s Community with Guaranteed Income for Economic Mobility

City of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) has launched GROW, a pilot study exploring how additional financial resources can improve economic mobility for Extended-TANF recipients. The project aims to support families by providing them with no-strings-attached resources, creating a path toward stability and an expanded safety net. The study’s findings will contribute to the understanding of guaranteed income programs and their potential to reshape community membership and participation.

E-TANF beneficiaries are parents who have received TANF benefits for at least 60 months and experience circumstances that prevent them from securing and maintaining full-time employment. All E-TANF beneficiaries in Philadelphia participate in the Work Ready workforce development program administered by JEVS Human Services.

Over a 12-month period, 50 recipients of E-TANF will receive an additional $500 per month, while a comparison group of 250 additional recipients of E-TANF will receive an extra $50 per month. The primary goal of the study is to understand how these additional resources affect the economic mobility of E-TANF recipients over the year-long study. The first payments were issued June 17.

The project is a step toward reimagining cash assistance programs to be equitable for all. Currently, TANF does the least for Black families. Fifty-five percent of the nation’s Black children live in the 18 states with the lowest benefits, compared to 41 percent of Latino/a/x children and 40 percent of white children. States’ withdrawal of funding from cash assistance has disproportionately affected Black families. States with larger shares of Black residents tend to spend smaller shares of their TANF funds on basic assistance.

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“At the dawn of public assistance in this country, the government assumed responsibility for the welfare of its citizens without stigma or suspicion. Unfortunately, the government created two tiers of support that excluded poor, single mothers and people of color from receiving most of the benefits received by others. Due to entrenched racist and sexist narratives, the government began to enforce restrictive requirements, as public assistance expanded to these groups, with the assumption that those receiving benefits had become incapable of managing their own resources,” said CEO Executive Director Mitchell Little. “What we have learned, however, is that the best way to eliminate poverty is to provide people resources with no strings attached. This project reinforces our commitment to being guided by listening to, supporting, and including communities while working collaboratively to foster greater economic mobility.”

CEO is partnering with researchers from Reinvestment Fund, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Mutual Aid Network, and Fund for Guaranteed Income (F4GI). F4GI will distribute the payments to the participants.

“The GROW project is unique because it will provide researchers and policymakers with the opportunity to debate and consider the value of extra income and its effect on the improvement of a family’s well-being. This experiment is the only one of its kind in the country working with extended TANF families,” said David Pate, Jr., principal investigator, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“For many of our neighbors, the existing social safety net isn’t enough to meet their basic needs. This is why the Fund for Guaranteed Income delivers direct, recurring cash transfers as additional support. By providing long-term benefits recipients extra resources, GROW builds a path towards great stability and an expanded safety net,” added Nick Salazar, Chief Operating Officer, Fund for Guaranteed Income.

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The GROW study is one of several guaranteed income projects being operated by the City of Philadelphia and part of a broader proliferation of guaranteed income studies launching in cities across the country. Mayor Kenney is a member of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a national network of municipal leaders advocating for direct, recurring cash payments.

“Guaranteed income pilots like the GROW Study are creating an evidence base for policymakers to fundamentally reframe the ways we understand membership and participation in our communities,” said Michael Norton, Chief Policy Analyst for Policy Solutions at Reinvestment Fund. “By creating space for people to make their own decisions and to prioritize their own needs and preferences, Guaranteed Income programs transcend prevailing social service models of demeaning surveillance towards models that incentivize individual agency and autonomy.”

As part of the study, the cash payments will be considered a gift and will not affect the participants’ eligibility for other public benefits, thanks in part to a waiver from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. A final report on the study will be released next summer.

“We hope this study reinforces the importance of direct, recurring cash payments as a way to dismantle barriers to economic justice so that all families can live productive, healthy lives,” Little concluded.

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