Compton Mayor Aja Brown is championing a guaranteed income plan for residents of her city during a pandemic that has upended life as we know it. From disparities in health, education and income, Brown believes this is the time for government to truly work for the people.
“We have seen our family in Compton heavily relying on food pantries like never before,” Brown said in an interview with NewsOne. “We’ve seen our educational system be significantly impacted with our closures, and our children are forced to obviously be educated remotely, which there is a digital divide between households having access to Wi-Fi and devices, and it’s just really with the care and attention that they are not receiving from being in classrooms that’s a challenge. And then, also just with the mental health impact of COVID and being isolated, we’ve seen those impacts within our community. Even with the spike in crime has been reflective of what people are dealing with during the pandemic.”
Prior to the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9T COVID-19 stimulus, Brown launched The Compton Pledge which provides direct cash payments to 800 Compton residents in need for two years. The program marks the largest city-based guaranteed income pilot in the U.S. and allocates up to $1,800 every three months. Amounts are also determined by the number of children per qualifying resident.
Compton is a city with immense cultural impact comprised mostly of communities of color. 30 percent of residents are Black, while 68 percent are Latino and are disproportionately affected by systemic racism which can lead to unemployment, low wages or are ineligible for government assistance. 1 in 5 Comptonians lives in poverty, which is double the nationwide average.
Brown worked in conjunction with the Fund for Guaranteed Income (F4GI), the Jain Family Institute (JFI). The pledge is based on the model launched by former Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs. Residents who qualified began receiving their payments in late 2020.
“This particular effort was spearheaded by Mayor Tubbs’ faction and he’s launched a program called Mayors for Guaranteed Income. And so, we were asked to join him in this coalition in the midst of the pandemic. It was just a great opportunity to provide direct aid and direct response to our community, and especially in the wake of the federal government really lagging behind in providing with support financially,” she said.
The monies will also help forgotten and overlooked members of society, including undocumented community members and those who were formerly incarcerated. Brown, who was raised by her mother in a single-parent home, has a personal attachment to ensuring that the most vulnerable residents of Compton are supported.
“I’ve received just really beautiful feedback from families that receive their direct aid and just the stories of the impact from single mothers that were able to stabilize their shelter for their families and provide basic necessities like food and utilities for their children,” Brown said.
As the program rolls into action, Brown explained that the launch coalition is always looking at areas of improvement. An additional arm of the program allows free access to checking accounts and one-on-one financial wellness coaching.
“We are constantly reevaluating our program and our needs to ensure that we can definitely see the entire trajectory and even beyond,” Brown said. “Our goals, at the onset, was to really not only provide the direct aid to participants, but also to measure the impact that this aid would have on their wellbeing, so there is a study to really measure how people feel about receiving this direct cash: if they are more hopeful; if they feel that stress.”
Brown is hopeful as other cities launch similar programs to help spread equity and access for members of society who are hammered by the systemic racism, heightened under the weight of the pandemic.
“I believe that guaranteed income and pilot in Compton provide an excellent model about how to really intentionally address poverty head-on, and focusing on empirical data in order to actually move the needle and change outcomes is something that we all have the power to do with policy and direct investment,” Brown said. “We are intentionally a part of the broader movement in order to provide an impact to the national case that guaranteed income is a great implementation tool to facilitate equity in communities of color across the nation. And so, we’re looking forward to the outcomes that we’re able to provide and add to this greater movement.”