Tacoma’s GRIT income program showing early signs of success

Jan 5, 2023, 4:59 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2023, 3:25 pm
A foreign-born worker from Mexico, wearing a protective mask, collects fallen autumn leaves while cleaning a street in Washington state. (Photo by Jinhee Lee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Jinhee Lee/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Just a year into Tacoma’s Growing Resilience In Tacoma (GRIT) program, the city has received glowing praise for the pilot program’s success and is now looking into ways to expand it statewide over the next few years.

Over 100 lower-income households in Tacoma received $500 a month for 12 months as part of GRIT.

“To restore truth to the idea of the American dream for working families, we must give people what they need to be successful,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards on the GRIT program in a prepared statement. “If we are going to effectively eradicate inequity in Tacoma or in any city across America, then we must look at all of the conditions that impact our residents. This includes economic conditions. That is why I am excited to join this group in exploring options for providing guaranteed income locally.”

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Woodards is the lone active mayor in Washington state currently campaigning for this program to expand, according to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

According to The Seattle Times, 23% of the monthly fund was spent on food and groceries while 12% was spent on housing and utilities. To participate in this program, the households were all single-income families with children between 100-200% of the federal poverty line.

“The longer that families receive some stable and or predictable support, the better their children can be,” said Gee Scott, co-host of The Gee and Ursula Show. “We always talk about, ‘Where were the parents?’ ‘Why is that child out there at 14 years old committing those crimes?’ ‘Oh, my baby wouldn’t be out there at 14 years old at three in the morning.’ ”

Gee believes one of the biggest deterrents from supporting this plan across the entire state is the myth of the “welfare queen.”

“I’m at the age where I used to take the WIC card of my grandmother’s, and I used to go to the store to get eggs, milk, and things. They would initial and sign when we would get the food,” Gee said. “Do you guys know that I have never in my life seen anyone in front of me pay and get steak and lobster and all of those things and go out there to a brand new Mercedes Benz? For some reason, many people have a story that way, though.”

Welfare queen” is a derogatory term used to refer to people, particularly women, who allegedly misuse or collect excessive welfare payments through fraud or manipulation. However, many activists have come down on the term, calling it racist since former president Ronald Reagan first popularized it during his first presidential campaign.

“It’s really easy to come on the outside looking in and see someone whether they are driving a Mercedes Benz, whether they are driving a luxury vehicle, but you might not know the story,” Gee said. “You might not know. They might have gone through a divorce, they might have a sick spouse, they might have lost a job. There are so many factors that go into some people just needing help.

“And we have to dispel this myth that if someone receives help, they’re automatically taking advantage of it,” Gee continued. “Everyone doesn’t spend their money the way that you do.”

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GRIT is currently operating as a pilot program funded through grant money. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, roughly 40% of Tacoma households were struggling to make ends meet, according to GRIT. The households have been defined as Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, and Employed families (ALICE.)

“One of the criticisms of this is these programs show excellent results, but they can’t be grant-funded forever because that’s not a sustainable source of revenue,” said Andrew “Chef” Lanier, the producer for The Gee and Ursula Show. “So, how do you fund these things if you want to move it upwards?”

The pilot program is part of a more extensive study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research. A report on Tacoma’s pilot program is expected to be published sometime in the summer of 2024.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Tacoma’s GRIT income program showing early signs of success