Hello, readers! It's officially fall and though we have mixed feelings about what lies ahead this year, we're ready to welcome a change of scene with all of autumn's leaves, sweaters, hot drinks, and harvest vibes.

And while we're here for some changes, we're pretty concerned by the lack of changes elsewhere—especially when it comes to women's health and safety. From
Texas Governor Greg Abbott's bizarre and ridiculous claim that he can reduce abortions by miraculously eliminating sexual violence to the sensationalist coverage of Gabby Petito's disappearance and death while the disappearances of hundreds of Indigenous women continue to go underreported—it's clear that violence against women in this country is often either fetishized or dismissed entirely. As women in media, we are disappointed and disturbed by the lack of equity when it comes to coverage of these tragedies, and having to demand equal attention towards brutalities against women, when no woman in this country should have to experience these high rates of violence in the first place, is depressing and frustrating. Meanwhile, national conversations continue to avoid framing discussions around men's actions and dismantling patriarchy. Our thoughts are with all the families who are missing and mourning a woman stolen from their lives. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, the Washington State Coaltion Against Domestic Violence has several resources to get help now. 

In this issue, Niki digs into Tacoma's about-to-begin guaranteed income demonstration and how it could help change public perception of people experiencing financial hardship, and Nia chats with an entrepreneur about her handmade products that have us embracing the new season. 
Reminder, if you like our work and support our mission of valuing the work that women do, please consider contributing, if you're able. Every little bit boosts our efforts to provide original, quality journalism and helps us grow in order to bring you more voices and stories. Thanks to those who've already pitched in!
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More Dollars Make Sense

Dona Ponepinto and Abigail Lawson of United Way of Pierce County want Tacoma’s guaranteed income pilot program to change perceptions of people living on the edge of poverty—and how $500 a month can make a big difference for families.

Growing Resilience in Tacoma is a year-long guaranteed income demonstration program to see how $500, monthly, can help families. Image of Tacoma Narrows Bridge by Checubus.

“Poverty should not be seen as a personal failure.”

That’s the main message that Dona Ponepinto, president and CEO of United Way of Pierce County, hopes Tacoma’s guaranteed income initiative, Growing Resilience in Tacoma (GRIT), can help spread. GRIT is a year-long demonstration program in which 110 Tacoma residents receive a no-strings-attached monthly cash payment of $500. It’s a joint effort between the United Way, the City of Tacoma, and a group called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI) with the goal of seeing how families use guaranteed income to better inform aid policies in the future. The families have been selected and are currently being notified. Once that process is complete, distribution of funds will begin.

GRIT is a first-of-its-kind program for Tacoma, and one of several similar experiments across the country seeded by a $15 million donation to MGI by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodard is a member of MGI and contacted United Way to gauge interest:  “She wasn’t even finished making her case before I said yes,” says Ponepinto. 

The concept of universal basic income or guaranteed income as a potentially realistic policy has gained a little steam in recent years, which the Dorsey donation reflects. One of the more well-publicized guaranteed income programs, recently concluded, is the two-year pilot in Stockton, California, that began in 2019. That city's mayor, Michael D. Tubbs, founded MGI to build from that work.

Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang famously made it a mainstay of his platform as well. Here in Washington there's also some momentum, with Governor Jay Inslee setting aside some 2021–2023 budget funds to study universal basic income. Prior to all this, there have been a couple of other examples, notably in Alaska, where all residents of the state get money from a state-owned fund financed by oil revenue, and North Carolina, where tribal members get funds via the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Dividend.

One of the goals of GRIT, says Ponepinto, is to change the narrative around those who are struggling financially. Before the pandemic, according to United Way, nearly 40% of Americans reported they could not afford an unexpected $400 expense. In shaping the program for Tacoma resident needs, United Way focused on a few different things. Participants needed to be part of the ALICE population: Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed—these households’ incomes are between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, that was 40% of Tacoma households
, which  only got worse after the pandemic hit. Families must also be single parents or guardians with children under the age of 17, or 21 with disabilities, and from one of four Tacoma neighborhoods: Eastside, Hilltop, South Tacoma, or South End. A disproportionate number of ALICE families in Pierce County are BIPOC, with 15% of those headed by a single adult. The vast majority of these single-family households are headed by women (7,076, with 1,910 headed by men).

If you’re getting any kind of government assistance, your life isn’t your own, it really isn't. Everything you do, every penny that you make, an extra penny, you could be negatively impacted. So these kinds of efforts, I hope, can begin to change the narrative.”
Dona Ponepinto, president and CEO, United Way of Pierce County

One of the biggest things programs like GRIT highlight is just how many strings are attached when your income is at, or below, the poverty line and you’re seeking aid. Qualifying for assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, or low-income housing means every detail of your financial life is openly scrutinized, with reams of paperwork to be filled out and updated regularly in order to continue receiving assistance.  “If you’re getting any kind of government assistance, your life isn’t your own, it really isn’t,” says Ponepinto. “Everything you do, every penny that you make, an extra penny, you could be negatively impacted. So these kinds of efforts, I hope, can begin to change the narrative.”

That also makes GRIT tricky to implement. It involves managing how the money might affect any other assistance that participants are receiving. ALICE families, explains Abigail Lawson, who is the GRIT program director (and formerly an intern at United Way), are on the edge of what’s known as the
benefits cliff, where they can receive some benefits such as Medicaid and SNAP, but any addition to your income, however slight—a raise in wages, or a grant, will change your eligibility calculation and sometimes end benefits completely. That makes it difficult to improve their financial circumstances beyond that precarious status quo.

“Some of them, like SNAP, it’s even a dollar-for-dollar calculation of what you lose out on,” says Lawson. “It kind of mitigates any sort of benefit that you would engage with by receiving cash. So we're wanting to mitigate all the potential loss that may be incurred through that.”

Lawson says that means working closely with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), designing waiver requests that the U.S. Department of Agriculture must approve. “And then they decide basically whether or not 110 people with this additional income will be counted toward their eligibility for the program.”

There are many other challenges. One of the biggest? “The need is so great,” says Ponepinto. For 110 slots, there were more than 2,000 applications (
reviewed by independent researchers at the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania.) There will also be a control group chosen; they won’t get the $500, but they’ll receive compensation for surveys and interviews for the duration of the program.

“I don't think we had an understanding of the complexity of doing something like this and getting the voices of the community,” says Ponepinto. “We spent a great deal of time doing some focus groups gathering information; this wasn't done in a vacuum.”

Another looming challenge is battling public perception of both cash programs and the ALICE population. Ponepinto says she’s received plenty of opinionated emails. Some question the choice of cash to families, as opposed to, say, donating the same money to an organization. Others are simply rude and prejudiced. As unfortunate as that response is, Ponepinto says it drives home the importance of this work. “If someone is going to slap my hand and call me a few names or whatever for trying to help improve people's lives in the community, fine.”

“There are a lot of people out there that believe poverty is because someone can’t get a job or because someone doesn’t have enough education—it’s their fault that they’re struggling,” says Ponepinto on the public’s often ill-informed perceptions of financial hardship. She acknowledges that people can abuse systems, but the reality is they’re an exception, not the rule. “For the small percentage of that abuse, there’s more that really need the help of the system while they’re trying to move out of poverty,” she says.

“There are very few people out there that want handouts,” says Ponepinto. The shame she’s seen families have over handouts makes it difficult for her to donate feel-good things like holiday baskets anymore. “All of us feel so great when we put together and do that stuff for families,” she says. “So many of those families are so ashamed to have to do that. Five hundred extra a month could mean, ‘I can pay my rent and I can maybe get some food on the table. I can maybe save a little bit of money.’ It just does something to the human spirit when you feel like you have enough money for yourself and your family.” Indeed, according to a white paper published by the Stockton program part of the way through, recipients have spent the money on rent, food, and vehicle costs; it has also helped them find full-time employment and decreased their anxiety and depression.

“So much poverty can be a shameful and fearful experience,” adds Lawson. “So part of the benefits of a guaranteed income is that, because there are less restrictions and there is less red tape and there's less interaction with different case workers—and you're not having to re-up and reapply, and whatever, you know, all that that entails—it kind of brings dignity back into our economy and reminds people that they have an innate ability to make decisions according to their own best interests, that they do have trustworthiness within their own society and their own community, and that they're welcome to participate and to feed their children and to put a roof over their families’ heads without having to necessarily be tied to a job all day every day, all parts of the day.”

There are a few things that Lawson and Ponepinto say that they, and collaborators, hope will come out of the GRIT program: Above all, a better understanding for everyone about how cash programs work for the people who receive the money.

“In the long run, navigating the naysayers will be well worth it,” says Lawson. “We’re hosting a research program. So we’re hosting an opportunity for all of us as a community and as a nation to learn whether or not this works. We’re coming in here, granting $600,000, and that’s going to go directly into families’ pockets and directly into the local economy, but we’re also hosting a conversation and a detailed research program that will prove or disprove the efficacy of a guaranteed income.” 

It’s just a beginning, but an important next step in advocating for more equity in our communities. By Niki Stojnic

She Made It 

Who’s behind these delightful handmade candles? Tap the image to find out.


What we are seeing and doing this week/end

With Covid-19 variants like Delta still a risk, outdoor large event and indoor masking is in effect in the state of Washington—even if you are vaccinated. Protect the health and lives of your community and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Below, we’ve highlighted some ways to support and engage with the community.

Learn how to write real fake news from the best satirical site in Seattle. The Needling is hosting a Real Fake Newsroom Workshop starting Oct. 12. Students will get to workshop ideas and get mentorship over three online sessions. Sign up here.

Happy anniversary to Spice Bridge! It’s been a year since the food hall that helps refugee and immigrant families start food businesses opened in Tukwila. Celebrate on Oct. 6th, 4–7 p.m. with live music, poetry, and more.

Take a walk in the Central District on Oct. 16 for Walk the Block, a pop-up art fundraiser for Wa Na Wari with houses, businesses, parks and more hosting art installations and performances. Artists include Barbara Earl Thomas, Kimisha Turner, Nia Amina Minor and more, plus food and drinks. Get tickets here.

Welcome back SIFF Egyptian and Film Center! As of today, you can now attend screenings in person—with proof of vaccination. DocFest kicks off today, grab a pass here.

Speaking of opening nights, the 13th annual Seattle Latino Film Festival is on Oct. 8th. Passes are on sale now.

Celebrate Banned Books Week and everyone’s freedom to read by picking up a banned book from a local, woman-owned bookshop—such as Secret Garden Books, which even has its own Banned Books display. 

Be sure to add Indigenous People Festival to your virtual festival calendar. Seattle Indian Health Board, in partnership with Seattle Center, will hold performances as well as discussions on healing and justice, Indigenous-led media, and more; Oct. 12–15.
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