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Cambridge to Fund Third-Largest Guaranteed Income Program in the U.S.

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The City of Cambridge will spend nearly $22 million of federal funding on direct payments to low-income Cambridge families, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui announced Wednesday.

The money — allocated to Cambridge under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — will go toward expanding Cambridge Recurring Income for Success and Empowerment, or RISE, a guaranteed income pilot program championed by Siddiqui in her first term. This $22 million-dollar expansion will make RISE the third-largest direct income program of any city in the country, behind the $38-million BIG: LEAP basic income program in Los Angeles and a $31.5 million program in Chicago.

Siddiqui announced the program in the “State of the City Address,” broadcast virtually Wednesday afternoon.

“Particularly in light of the ongoing effects of the pandemic, which we know disproportionately affect low-income residents and residents of color, this historic allocation will help put families on a path to economic stability,” Siddiqui said in the address.

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Last September, Cambridge RISE — a partnership with the city, the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, and the national organization Mayors for a Guaranteed Income — began sending monthly $500 payments to 130 randomly selected low-income Cambridge households for 18 months.

Under the expanded program, all families in Cambridge with incomes below twice the federal poverty level will be eligible for 18 months of $500 payments. In a Thursday interview with the Crimson, Siddiqui estimated that roughly 2,300 families will qualify.

“There's been a big desire to move forward on expanding this type of support,” Siddiqui said in the interview. “I think families are looking for relief.”

This expansion also marks the single largest allocation of Cambridge’s ARPA funds to date. Under the federal law — signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021 — Cambridge was awarded $88 million in Covid-19 relief funding.

With this new allocation, the city will have roughly $33 million of ARPA funds remaining, which it plans to distribute among community organizations and nonprofits.

Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon said in an interview she hopes other municipalities across the country will follow Cambridge’s lead in using ARPA funds to implement guaranteed income programs.

“Every single municipality across the country got these American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and they can allocate them pretty much however they like, as long as they fall within the ARPA guidelines,” Mallon said. “The gauntlet has been thrown.”

In the Wednesday address, Siddiqui echoed similar sentiments.

“This is the exact type of initiative that makes us all proud of Cambridge: a unique, forward-thinking anti-poverty program that will hopefully serve as an example to cities everywhere,” she said in the speech.

Correction: May 1, 2022

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Cambridge’s guaranteed income pilot program would be the second-largest basic income program in the United States. In fact, it would be the third-largest, behind Los Angeles and Chicago.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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