Thanks for joining us for another episode of Patrons & Partnerships, presented by the Library Partnership Branch of the Alachua County Library District.
Our guest today is Kevin Scott, Director of Just Income GNV, Gainesville’s pilot guaranteed income program which focuses on previously-incarcerated individuals here in Alachua County. We talk about how the history of Just Income GNV and how came to be, what the program aims to do, and what Community Spring intends to do with the data they collect. The second half of this interview will be posted on August 11th, so stay tuned!
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You can view a transcript of this podcast on ACLD's YouTube Channel.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Patrons & Partnerships. I'm Tina, and today our guest is Kevin Scott, the Director of Just Income GNV. [music] So I would like to introduce our guest today. It’s Kevin Scott, Director of… I'll let you introduce yourself.Kevin:
My official title is I'm the Project Director of Just Income GNV.Tina:
So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Just Income and how you started with the organization?Kevin:
Yeah, so Just Income GNV - GNV as the Gainesville city code, we know that here, but if anyone's listening doesn't know that. So Just Income GNV is a project that is being administered by Community Spring. And so Community Spring is a nonprofit here in Gainesville that tries to address systemic poverty through economic mobility, which sounds like a mouthful, but the way that actually like comes out in practice is Community Spring hires people in the community who have experienced poverty in some way, or maybe even still are experiencing poverty, to address the systems that they see as contributing to their own experience. So it's very much modeled on the idea of closest to the pain, closest to the solution. The people who are living it should be the ones who are speaking up and attacking those systems that have been contributing to their own experience, so. I was actually part of the first fellowship class that they ever had, and what we worked on as part of that fellowship, based on our own common experience - we'd all been impacted by the justice system in some way in our lives, either directly or indirectly - and so what we saw here in Gainesville that was lacking was re-entry support. So people go into incarceration, they come out… Now what? Now what are you supposed to do? And what we saw here was like, really not much in terms of meaningful resources for people coming out. We thought, you know, having like a peer-to-peer network could be something very powerful in terms of like, somebody who's been in prison, for example, is best suited to empathize and share resources with somebody who's coming out of prison also. So kind of like pairing that lived experience with other lived experience. And so what we started doing was kind of providing like, practical resources, emotional resources for people post-incarceration is really what it was, which was great. And it was called Torchlighters Re-Entry Support. That's what we were doing. And we started corresponding with people while they were still in prison. Oftentimes, people come out, no networking, nothing has been sort of like, maybe like no connection to the outside world. It's sort of like your re-entry plan starts the day you come out, when really it should start the day you go in. So realizing that cycle - we've experienced this in our own lives, some of us, and then in the lives of our loved ones and around us - so we wanted to interrupt that cycle. And so we started corresponding with people in advance, people that were coming home to Alachua County from state prison, that was our main audience, our main focus, which was very helpful. People knew that we existed here. We were sending in some resource guides as well, like we had sort of compiled and consolidated local resources. Like, here's where you go to get an ID; here are places where you can go get food, clothing, and sort of categorize those things and made them into a nice tidy little package for people coming out. When COVID happened - you may have heard of COVID - we had to [laughs] pause a lot of our activities and the gatherings we were kind of having. We had just started having face-to-face meetings, like group meetings, sort of like a support group - come together, share some tears, share some laughter, share some resources. COVID really put a wrench into that whole system. So we still wanted to do something to help our community, we felt like we had a lot of momentum and we wanted to keep doing something. We had become aware of the merit and power of direct cash assistance programs. And so we wanted to do one here. And so we did what was called CS Direct, which is Community Spring Direct. And it was just a one time $300 payment to folks who were receiving SNAP benefits here in Alachua County. So the way that we did that was folks could apply through an online portal, you know, had to verify that they were receiving SNAP benefits, and then we would do monthly just a randomized total like lottery draw. And so whatever amount of money we had raised, we would divide that by $300. And we would give that money to that many randomly selected people. That was great, very exciting to be a part of. Around that time, our mayor, Mayor Poe, joined Mayors For A Guaranteed Income, which is a national coalition of mayors who believe that guaranteed income is just a good idea and worth exploring, at the very least. And so he had heard about our direct cash assistance program, and he came to Community Spring and said, would you be interested in implementing a guaranteed income pilot here in Gainesville? Everything that is done at Community Spring, it centers impacted voices. So like, we want to hear from people in the community, people who have been through the experiences of, of what we're trying to address. So after a lot of thoughtful discussion of like, could we do this? Should we do this? Is this a horrible idea? Is this a great idea? Like we, you know, had a lot of discussion. And we came back and said, Yes, we will do it, but only if it's for formerly incarcerated people based on our previous work. And they said, Yes, okay, let's do it. And so that has turned into Just Income GNV. So that's like, kind of the perfect synergy of our re-entry support work, the direct cash assistance work, kind of came together into this current project now.Tina:
So how many people are being assisted with your program at this time?Kevin:
So, very exciting, just last Thursday - March 31st - we officially have 115 people receiving income for a year. Tina: That's amazing. So we had 50 - 57 started in January. And then the next 58 started March 31st, just last Thursday, for a total of 115. And so the cadence of those payments, the way it works out, is they get $1,000 the first month, followed by 600 a month for 11 months after that. And it is unconditional, it is no strings attached. If you want to buy a sandwich, you want to buy a jetski, you want to save it, you want to light it on fire, [laughing] you want to pay your bills, it's totally no strings, which we think is important. Oftentimes, support comes with like, maybe a caveat or like a hook or like, hey but you can only use it for - or some sort of condition. And we believe that people are the experts in their own lives and should be able to act accordingly. So we thought that part was like, super crucial. And we've already seen some results. The first cohort, like I said, started in January. So they are three months into it already. And we've seen like incredible things - even the people that just got it last Thursday, already seen like amazing stories.Tina:
And to the people - the 151? Kevin: 115. 115. Are they also invited to participate in decision making or discussions? Are they part of that group that then decides how to help others, or.. ?Kevin:
Yes, so what we're doing, it's a research study. So we're part of the Mayors For A Guaranteed Income national network. So this is going to be a very deep dive. This is a very serious like, academic study. So we're partnered with the University of Pennsylvania and the Center for Guaranteed Income Research and Dr. Lucius Couloute - best name on the planet. He's a doctor at Suffolk University up in Boston area, and he is a criminology and sociology professor. And so in conjunction with UPenn, Dr. Couloute, they’ll be conducting a pretty deep dive, quantitative and qualitative data of people receiving the money and people not receiving the money. So the way that we logistically did this, is we opened up an application to people that we knew were eligible. So the criteria worth stating is you had to be released from a state or federal prison, county jail with a felony, or started felony probation within six months of the application deadline. We tried to have like, as close of a window to release as possible. So we reached out to those people, said, Hey, you're eligible for this thing. A lot of skepticism, which we can very much talk about. Very, you know, understandable skepticism. But people applied, and then it was a lottery draw. It was a random selection from that point forward. So there's, you know, the treatment and control group, people getting the money, people not getting the money. And so six months, 12 months, 18 months, folks will be invited - totally optional - to take part in surveys, similar to the baseline survey, which was - kind of served as the application as well. Just to see, like, how are things going? How is this income? Has it helped? Has it hurt? In what ways has it had an impact? And then also, how's it going for people who have not had financial support, you know, an income floor that they can count on? So we'll be doing, you know, a lot of research as well. So people's voices, we want them to say, yes, we will participate in the research. And so of the 115 people who are receiving the income, we met each one of them individually, had private meetings, got to know them - which we think was very important. We wanted to have like, face to face. This is not just a transaction. This is community. This is power building. This is like, a bold move to do this with this population especially. So we thought it was important to like kind of build that rapport. And 100%, 100% of those 115 people said yes, I would absolutely love to be a part of the research. Everyone said they're willing to participate. Totally optional. They're gonna get the money either way, so they could say never contact me again. But like 100% said yes. So I think people - what we hear a lot from formerly incarcerated people, especially is I've been silenced so long, I was afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation, but what they did to me in there is… fill in the blank, you know, there's any number of atrocities and traumas that people come out with. So a lot of people are now feeling almost a little eager to like, share their story, which is amazing and realizing that this could really help the next person coming out as well.Tina:
So can you tell us about your team? Like you must - you're not doing this by yourself. What does your team look like?Kevin:
Yeah, so I'm the director. And then Tequila McKnight is the participant coordinator. She was also one of the original fellows who helped to form Torchlighters Re-Entry Support. Tequila and I were a part of a group, several group gatherings of people that helped to design and administer this. So ours is very unique in that it's like, it has been designed and administered by formerly incarcerated people, that's very distinct. And so like, even the fact that we front loaded the payments, like the fact that it's $1,000 first and then 600 is unusual. A lot of guaranteed income studies or pilots are one uniform amount throughout the entire time. We thought that that was important, just based on our own experience, like you know, cash is the currency of urgency. You can get as much as you can when you come out, especially, and so that was designed by us. Community Spring is the nonprofit that we're operating out of. So like that's our umbrella nonprofits. And then we're in partnership with Mayors For A Guaranteed Income. UPenn has research staff there, and then Dr. Couloute as well. It's small. I mean, it's a small operation, honestly - our office here, Tina: Mhmm. it's just me and Tequila are the, are the two staff members who've been hired on to do it. But then we're fortunate to have the connections with the other entities as well.Tina:
So what happens at the end of the period of time? Will your team then still assist the participants into the next phase of their lives by connecting them to resources or anything else? Is - what, what happens to them at the end of the program?Kevin:
I have no idea. Tina: [laughs] We don't know. [laughs] I mean, part of it is like, we shall see. So I - resources, absolutely. So everyone that is a part of this, like I mentioned earlier, we had compiled that resource guide, that was this sort of like a trifold pamphlet that we would send into people in prison. We also made a longer form like an insider's guide to re-entry. And that was written by former prisoners with like quotes and anecdotes and advice. It was a mix of prose and categorized resources as well. So everyone that came in, they got one of those. And so resources for sure. But part of this is it's a study, it's research. We don't know, like, we're hopeful that this will be a net positive thing. But we also want to operate from a place of wisdom and realities. So part of it is we're going to kind of wait and see. If you asked me today, like, Will this be good? I would say yes, just because like I said, the first 57 people are three months into it, already seen remarkable tangible and intangible results. You know, people have come back with some like really amazing stuff, people that like didn't have a vehicle now have a vehicle. They were able to - if they had like maybe fines and fees that they had to pay to like get their license squared away, or like get, you know, like a tag that they couldn't afford before, now they have it. One guy had had some botched hip surgeries while he was incarcerated and has a hard time getting around, very limiting in terms like the scope of his life, like where he can go. He was able to get a mobility scooter. He found one at like - at a hospice, I think. Thrift store. So, amazing, like he was able to afford that. People that were houseless now in homes, people investing in their education. You know, one of the things that we combat a lot, especially with this population, is there's a perceived stereotype. That's a big, a big hurdle for us, is that people think of someone who's been incarcerated as like, dangerous, maybe lazy, like, they're not gonna do anything with the money, they're just gonna sit around, they're just gonna drink it or smoke or whatever it may be. And like, what we know from like other pilots around the country is like, that's actually decidedly not, that's just not true. The evidence says the opposite. So people who received the money in - Stockton, California had a very large, pretty robust study, and their findings have already come out. People were twice as likely to get full time employment that were receiving the money, like two times as likely, because they could afford to take the time to go explore other opportunities. I think it was like 1 to 2% went to alcohol, which is totally contrary to what most people would believe. So, you know, with our population that we're serving here, we feel like we have some extra stuff, some icky stuff to get around just because people tend to like, demonize people who've been incarcerated. But what we have seen is people do exactly what kinda you and I would do and what anyone else would do, for the most part, is they invest in themselves and make choices that are relevant to themselves, their families. Tina: Try to get their life back on track. Yeah, yeah, just - just make common choices. Like I'm hungry, I'm going to go get some food. Or like, I have an opportunity to go - like, I've been stuck in some shitty job. I can now afford to take a day off from my shitty job to go explore this other opportunity that otherwise I couldn't afford to miss a day of work now that I have this cushion. So the grand total is $7,600 a year. So for people who might criticize and say, Oh, well, they're, they're not going to do anything. I mean, could you live on $7,600 a year? If so, please, enlighten all of us on how you're doing that. It's not enough to live on. This is only providing like, a guaranteed cushion. So there's - “income floor” is kind of like a buzz phrase in the world of guaranteed income. And what we see in this population in particular is it's not like you come out of incarceration and you are on a level playing field, on even ground with the rest. Like, you come out in the hole. So like, you have the same expectations as everyone else of like, you know, you need to find housing. You're probably going to have to get some transportation of some sort, maybe a bicycle, maybe - maybe even just a bus pass, a car. Insurance, utilities, a phone, some clothing, I mean - just, you know, the things that we all have to pay for. However, on top of that, you also have court fees, restitution, maybe probation fees, maybe you have to wear an ankle monitor, maybe you have to take some sort of therapy, maybe there's drug testing. All of these things are extra. So you have an extraordinary amount of debt, more so than the next person. And you have like a diminished opportunity to make money. So like, it's hard to find a job. It's hard to find housing. People come out really on fire and to be back in the world and like very ambitious and driven, creative, very capable human beings, and then go for a job interview and it's like, oh, sorry. Background check, you know, can't help you. Can't live here. Can’t work here. No, no, no, no, no. So the inability to pay those legal fees can result in re-incarnation. I know here locally, it's about like 25% of the technical probation violations are rooted in just simply a lack of money. Like, there's no crime, there's no offense - the crime is your bank account. You just don't have enough money. You're too poor to be free. Which is an insane situation to be in, but it happens all the time. So people will be re-incarcerated simply for a lack of money. So that's one of the things we're trying to highlight with this as well is that if money turns out to be the answer, then maybe money was the problem to begin with. Maybe the way that we're taxing people and expecting people to do extraordinary things with limited resources is a trap. Maybe - maybe it's rigged after all. [music] Thanks for listening to Patrons & Partnerships. The second half of our interview with Just Income GNV will post on August 11th. As always, if you know of an individual or organization you’d like to recommend for an interview, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To listen to more episodes, find us anywhere you listen to podcasts.