TogetherATL in action: Affecting systems and community-level change to make our region more equitable
By Katrina DeBerry, senior program officer and Lauren Thomas Priest, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
Through TogetherATL, its strategic framework to make our region more equitable, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has made a $300,000 grant to the Georgia Resilience and Opportunity (GRO) Fund to support its In Her Hands program in College Park. The GRO Fund was founded in 2021 with a mission “to advance racially equitable outcomes and reverse systemic inequality through bold solutions,” and was born out of the work of the Old Fourth Ward Economic Security Task Force. It is building on the Task Force’s work by implementing one of its recommendations, a guaranteed income program focused on Black women. Guaranteed income refers to monthly cash payments given directly to individuals. It is frequent, with no strings attached and no work requirements, and is usually intended to supplement, rather than replace, the existing social safety net. According to the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, guaranteed income is not universal, and prioritizes channeling money to low-income, no-income and middle-income people.
The GRO Fund is piloting the In Her Hands program in three areas across Georgia: Old Fourth Ward, Southwest Georgia and College Park. In each of these communities, In Her Hands will distribute an average of $850 per month to about 200 Black women. This amount was decided through engagement of community members and partners, as well as a consideration of benefits cliffs (the threshold at which low- and moderate-income families will lose their benefits as a result of increased income, sometimes resulting in a net loss for families). The number of participants per community was chosen based on consideration of collecting sufficient data from each community.
Other examples of guaranteed income programs in the United States include: Mississippi- Magnolia Mother’s Trust, Washington, D.C.- Thrive East of the River, New York- Trust Youth Initiative, and UpTogether.
Guaranteed income is a systems-level approach to making our region more equitable
The goal of the Foundation’s Income & Wealth Systems work is to reduce income and wealth gaps and increase opportunities for economic mobility and wealth-building with a particular focus on Asian and Pacific Islander, Black and Latinx communities.
Throughout the history of the United States, families who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) have been excluded from or lacked access to vehicles for wealth-building that have been provided to primarily white families. For many reasons – including the generational nature of wealth, the disproportionate impact of economic crises and recessions on people of color, the growing racial wage gap, and tax policies that favor income from wealth over income from work – racial wealth gaps are not just persistent, but continue to grow.
Through guaranteed income and other direct cash transfer programs, the Foundation can work with partners to provide community members who have traditionally been excluded from, or faced barriers to, accessing wealth-building opportunities with cash that they can use as they choose. These programs make a direct and immediate impact in the community, allow families to gain financial stability and give them agency and flexibility to spend their funds in the ways that they choose. There is dignity in choice and agency, and this flexibility allows families to respond to changing conditions and identify ways to use their increased incomes to benefit their families.
Guaranteed income is an immediate way to reduce income and wealth gaps in our region, increasing incomes for families and giving them access to capital that can be used to build wealth. It is also part of a broader, longer-term strategy to affect systems-level change. Programs like In Her Hands, with research components built in from the start, contribute to a growing body of research around direct cash transfer programs, their impact and program attributes that can increase their effectiveness. This research is being used to advocate for state and federal anti-poverty programs that will be effective in closing income and wealth gaps.
Why place and systems matter and intersect: College Park
As the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, we strive to work with and for our community by focusing deeply on specific places within our region to support the people who live there and providing the tools and resources necessary for the growth they seek in their lives. One of the communities we’ve selected to focus on is College Park.
As a city, College Park sits in both Fulton and Clayton counties and is adjacent to the southern boundary of the city of Atlanta. In 2020, the City of College Park was #1 (Fulton) and #2 (Clayton) for inequity and lack of access to opportunity. With a population of 15,199 (as of the 2020 census), College Park is over 80% Black, with a median income of just over $35,470 and an unemployment rate double the national average; the percentage of cost-burdened households is over 50%. This data has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For families that participate in the GRO Fund’s In Her Hands program, this influx of dollars can be the difference between stability and instability.
We need everybody in the fight for equity
Making the Atlanta region a more equitable place, where everybody has access to opportunities for economic mobility and every neighborhood thrives, will require all of us to work together. If you’re interested in contributing to TogetherATL, please visit our website.
With a goal of raising $16.5 million to support the In Her Hands program, the GRO Fund is still raising money. You can contribute directly by visiting their donation page.