After receiving positive feedback on Durham’s guaranteed income pilot program for formerly incarcerated residents in the city, nonprofit StepUp Durham, which administers the program, hopes for additional funding to continue its efforts.
The one-year pilot was designed to “evaluate guaranteed income’s effects on recidivism and re-incarceration, employment, economic security and income volatility.”
Proponents of the program hope these payments will curb high recidivism rates — North Carolina’s statewide rates were over 40% less than 10 years ago — by guaranteeing some economic security.
“We believe a guaranteed income can help ensure a successful transition home by providing a much needed additional source of income to give people time to build a new life and find a new way,” states Durham's executive summary of the guaranteed income pilot.
According to Shanti Callender, the Excel coordinator for StepUp Durham, the objectives of the program were not only reached but “went beyond belief.”
Now, the main challenge is securing the funds needed to expand Excel into the future.
Funding for the program is led by a $500,000 grant from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, while StepUp and the City of Durham worked with private donors to secure over $200,000 in additional capital.
While these were enough to get the pilot up and running, additional sponsors will be critical to incorporate more participants into Excel and provide them with more robust and specialized resources, according to StepUp leaders.
“The last disbursement of Excel will take place Feb. 15, and as of right now, there are no commitments to continue the program ... Funding is an initial challenge to continuing this pilot,” wrote StepUp Executive Director Syretta Hill.
'The community is blind to this issue'
Plans for Excel began to take form in August 2021 when StepUp Durham was chosen by the Durham City Council to organize a guaranteed income pilot program.
Participants had to be over 18, low-income (making at or less than 60% of Durham’s median income) and had to have been incarcerated within the last five years.
Callender mentioned a few success stories from the pilot program that stood out to her.
In one case, a mother of four had her children taken by social services after being justice-involved for seven years due to a domestic violence incident. Through the Excel program, the mother managed to secure custody of her children again and is now able to support her family through a full-time job.
Another instance included a man unable to gain any sort of employment around Durham; despite holding both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, the man had been justice-involved time and time again for the past 30 years. With his Excel stipends in hand, however, the man was able to open his very own candle and soap business which pays itself forward by employing other justice-involved individuals struggling to find jobs.
Torry Cooper, an Excel participant and a Durham resident, told The Chronicle in April 2022 that he believes that the universal basic income program is a much-needed stepping stone for low-income, formerly incarcerated people in Durham.
“It’s not that [low-income, formerly incarcerated people] don't have support; it's just they don't know of those types of programs that can support them to getting back,” he said. “If you have programs like this which can contribute, it's kind of like [jumpstarting] their life back to where it was before they got in trouble or had a detriment happen in their life.”
Administering the program had few challenges, apart from ensuring that StepUp Durham had the knowledge and resources necessary to “educate the participants on the subject of financial education and mental health resources,” according to Callender.
“Overall, the feedback from the pilot program has been very positive,” Callender wrote. “Bringing awareness to the struggle to get back into society after being justice involved was greatly needed. The community is blind to this issue.”
If additional funding is secured to expand Excel, Callender wrote that she would want to increase the number of participants.
“I would like the ability to offer more extensive financial advisory/education and mental health information and/or courses during the onboarding process,” Callender wrote. “Many residents of our community are recovering from substance abuse or domestic violence. The resources and support will assist in ending the repeated cycle.”
Durham is one of 60 cities in the country participating in some form of guaranteed income program. The results of the programs will be evaluated as proof-of-concept for future universal basic income (UBI) policies, using a wide range of performance indicators, including employment status, income volatility, housing security and mental and physical health.
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Gautam Sirdeshmukh is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for the news department. He was previously the health & science news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.