D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a $1.5 million direct cash assistance pilot program to support new and expectant low-income parents in Wards 5, 7 and 8 by improving maternal health and advancing economic mobility.
The program is funded by the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). Titled Strong Families, Strong Futures, the program coordinated by Martha’s Table, a D.C. based social services nonprofit, is expected to begin in February 2022. The program targets expecting parents or those raising a child aged three months or younger who have yearly household earnings below 250 percent of the federal poverty level—$32,200 for one person, or $43,550 for two.
The program also aims to alleviate some of the economic pressure parents continue to face during the pandemic. In addition to a monthly $900 unconditional cash transfer, parents will have access to non-monetary resources such as weekly access to healthy groceries and clothing, and the opportunity to enroll their child in nationally accredited early education programming, such as The Maycroft, run by Martha’s Table.
Whitney Faison, assistant director of communications at Martha’s Table, explained the benefits of unrestricted cash assistance programs in an email to the Voice. “Unrestricted cash assistance has proven time and time again that it is used to meet financial needs as each family sees fit,” Faison wrote. “The evidence is there that people know best how to support their families.”
This program comes at a time when COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women of color due to systemic issues, including occupational segregation and lack of access to paid leave. Between January 2020 and January 2021, 11 percent of Asian working mothers with children 12 or younger and 10 percent of Black mothers left the workforce. Both rates are higher than the same statistic for white mothers. For this reason, the program targets parents in Wards 5, 7, and 8, which have the district’s highest proportion of Black residents, lowest average household incomes, and poorest access to prenatal care.
In a Jan. 13 press conference announcing the program, Bowser acknowledged the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and families. “We know that women, particularly mothers, have been hit disproportionately hard by this pandemic,” Bowser said. “These payments will give moms the autonomy and flexibility that they need.”
With an annual cost of $28,785, D.C. was ranked the most expensive place in the U.S. to raise a child by a Lending Tree study. Job disruptions in the past two years created more income instability for families, and direct cash assistance programs have proven effective in helping families meet their most immediate needs.
Martha’s Table spearheads direct cash assistance initiatives in the city. Just days after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in D.C., Martha’s Table announced a cash assistance program that would provide $9000 per household for 137 families over a four-month period. The success of the program led to the launch of the THRIVE East of the River partnership, one of the largest cash assistance pilots in the country, supporting over 500 families living in Ward 8 between July 2020 and June 2021.
This program is part of a larger nation-wide movement to invest more heavily in parents of children at early stages of development. Similar direct cash assistance programs supporting low-income families were launched in Mississippi and Atlanta in recent years. The Strong Families, Strong Futures D.C. pilot will be evaluated by DMPED and Martha’s Table to measure the impacts on health and wellness of participating families. Martha’s Table will continue to actively promote cash assistance initiatives and hopes to expand these family assistance programs further.
“Martha’s Table remains dedicated to meeting the needs of communities that we stand alongside and will continue investments in cash transfer programs for our neighbors as part of our five-year community-led vision,” Faison wrote. “We know that the first few months of a child’s life are critical and can be incredibly stressful for young mothers. We have the resources and the team ready to support program participants and ensure they have everything they need to thrive.”