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Immigrants in New Mexico used basic income for housing and health care

A guaranteed basic income program in New Mexico offered immigrants and undocumented households across the state $500 a month for a year.
Sean Pavone/Getty Images

  • The basic income pilot in New Mexico provided $500 per month to 330 immigrant households.
  • Pandemic relief excluded many immigrants, leading to economic hardship for undocumented families.
  • The pilot showed improved employment and education outcomes for participants.

New Mexico’s basic income pilot was intended to fill a gap in the U.S. financial safety net: Many immigrants lack access to aid.

Relief during the pandemic has been largely limited to U.S. citizens, leaving undocumented and mixed-citizen households without stimulus checks, rent subsidies, or unemployment checks.

With growing economic need, community leaders in New Mexico decided to try a different strategy: no-obligation cash payments.

“Mixed-status immigrant families do not always enjoy the same public benefits as other families and workers because of their status,” Marcela Díaz, executive director of economic justice organization Somos Un Pueblo Unido, told Business Insider. “What does it look like if they get an extra $500 a month? How does this impact food security, their health, their well-being and their educational outcomes?”

As of February 2022, the guaranteed income program served 330 households with mixed immigration status. Participants received $500 per month for a year with no strings attached. Fifty randomly selected households had their benefits extended for another six months.

The New Mexico Economic Relief Working Group – a coalition of community and nonprofit organizations including Somos Un Pueblo Unido, New Mexico Voices for Children and UpTogether – administered the program, and funding came from private donors and philanthropy.

The pilot joins more than 100 basic income pilots launched in the US since 2019. Unlike traditional welfare programs, the programs allow families to choose how they spend the money. Participants told BI that they have used cash payments to pay rent, buy groceries, pay off debt and support their families.

New Mexico’s program is one of the first basic income programs to operate at the state level and specifically target immigrant households.

The success of the pilot has also given impetus to future basic income programs in the region. A new state-funded pilot cash program for people participating in workforce training programs passed in the New Mexico House in February. The $1 million project, which is seeking approval in the Senate, would help participants pay for housing, food and transportation for three years.

“People are using the money to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads,” Javier Rojo, senior research and policy analyst at New Mexico Voices for Children and author of the pilot report, told BI. “They use it very wisely to put themselves in a better position economically in the future.”

With basic income, participants saw better outcomes in employment and education

The New Mexico pilot served mixed-status households in 13 counties across the state. The reach of the program at the state level enabled participants in both rural and urban areas to benefit.

Almost all participants in the pilot were families with children. Ninety-five percent reported having to use household savings to pay bills, while 85% reported that this was the case housing insecure, and 74% had no health insurance.

Before the pilot started, participants in rural areas experienced higher housing and food insecurity than participants in cities, but also saw better employment incomes after the program was completed. Basic income reduced the number of urban participants who skipped basic necessities to pay for housing by 13% by the end of the pilot.

Participants’ children were also more likely to be learning at grade level and on track to graduate than before basic income.

A woman in Doña Ana County also said her job security improved because she was able to buy a cell phone.

“I clean houses. At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t have a phone, so it was very difficult for me to get in touch with potential customers,” she told researchers. “With the help of my new phone, I have been able to make more appointments and create a more stable work schedule.”

Republican lawmakers continue to try to ban basic income in the US, saying it will make low-income Americans too dependent on government assistance.

However, Rojo said the results of the New Mexico pilot show that participants became more active in the labor market with the support of cash payments. Some families reported using their basic income to secure the transportation or child care they needed to support a full-time work schedule.

In the future, he would like to see basic income used at the city, state and federal levels to support low-income families.

“People know best what their needs are and people know how to use their money to better themselves,” he said. “Trust them.”

Have you benefited from a guaranteed basic income program? Are you open to sharing how you spent the money? Please contact this reporter at [email protected].

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