Report: First-of-its-kind guaranteed income program in rural area improved financial, physical, and mental well-being
Authored by: Carson Easterly
Photography by: Provided
Faculty & Research
In a report authored by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), findings from the Ulster County, NY, pilot program show connections between the receipt of unconditional cash and improved financial security and quality of life in a rural context.
Philadelphia, PA and Kingston, NY — People who received monthly cash payments for 17 months as part of the Ulster County Project Resilience guaranteed income program reported improved quality of life as a result of increased financial assistance, according to a report by SP2’s Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR).
Based in Ulster County, New York, Project Resilience is the first county-led guaranteed income program in the United States. “Ulster County encapsulates in microcosm the difficulties facing the American labor market, even before the impact of the pandemic,” write the report’s authors, Elizabeth DeYoung, Amy Castro, Nidhi Tandon, Allison Thompson, and Stacia West of CGIR. The study analyzed the impact and role of guaranteed income over time in a rural area.
The first in a series of CGIR reports collectively named The American Guaranteed Income Studies, the study found that despite the pandemic and rising cost of living, guaranteed income enriched participants’ lives in several ways:
1. Improved financial health — Guaranteed income increased people’s household income and savings, providing them the ability to respond to financial emergencies and elevating their sense of self-worth and mattering.
2. Increased sense of self — Participants felt an increased sense of hope, agency, and control over their ability to achieve their goals.
3. Enhanced quality of life — Study participants experienced improved physical and mental health, along with increased access to food and affordable, stable housing.
In the face of an affordability crisis in Ulster County, with skyrocketing housing costs and stagnating wages, participants were better able to afford necessities like housing, food, and transportation, even as costs increased throughout the study period.
“Ulster County’s first-in-the-nation basic income experiment showed the importance and the impact of providing direct relief to our residents,” said U.S. Rep. Pat Ryan, who represents the Hudson Valley region. “These funds helped lower the cost of housing, groceries, medical bills, and college debt.”
One participant commented, “Something as simple as $500 a month…. changes the mindset a little bit. People can breathe a little bit more. They’re like, OK, well, I have a little bit of flexibility. I can do this. I can get back on track. It gives them hope.”
Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger remarked that the results of the study add to a growing body of empirical research showing the benefits of direct cash assistance for struggling individuals and households. “We now have measurable data from our own county indicating that direct cash assistance helps reduce poverty and its associated risks and harms while enabling our residents to gain more agency and control over their lives. I want to thank Congressman and former County Executive Pat Ryan for spearheading this important initiative for our County residents,” said County Executive Metzger.
Metzger drew a comparison between the potential of guaranteed income and the success of the Biden Administration’s one-year expansion of the child tax credit. Extending fully refundable tax credits to families with little or no taxable income, the policy resulted in a historical decline of 46% in the nation’s child poverty rate.
“Now that we’ve seen the Expanded Child Tax Credit lift millions of children out of poverty nationwide, direct cash assistance is a tool our state and federal lawmakers should consider to help and empower struggling families while minimizing red tape,” Metzger said.
Project Resilience was a partnership between the Ulster County government, Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, and Ulster Savings Bank, and funded by private donations. It provided 100 Ulster County households with monthly cash payments from May 2021 to September 2022.
Recipients’ annual income was at or below $46,900, which was 80% of the area’s median income level, and recipients were permitted to use the money as they saw fit. Researchers measured participant impact against a randomized control group of 84 other county residents who did not receive payments.
Initially slated for 12 months of $500 payments, Project Resilience was extended for an additional five months as the financial repercussions of the pandemic continued, with the payment amount decreasing during the five-month phase out period. The amount decreased as the program titrated, with participants receiving $400 in July, $350 in August, and $250 in September of 2022.
“Against steep odds, the treatment group saw improved levels of financial well-being, which served as a catalyst for broader mental and emotional well-being. [Guaranteed income] contributed to self-worth, self-determination, and a newfound sense of freedom among recipients. People felt empowered to build skills and pursue long-term aspirations, to take risks and reclaim time for themselves,” the authors write.
About the Center for Guaranteed Income Research
The Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR) is an applied research center specializing in cash-transfer research, evaluation, pilot design, and narrative change. CGIR provides mixed-methods expertise in designing and executing empirical guaranteed income studies that work alongside the existing safety net. Headed by its founding directors, Drs. Amy Castro and Stacia West, CGIR is housed at the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.
About Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2)
For more than 110 years, the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) has been a powerful force for good in the world, working towards social justice and social change through research and practice. SP2 contributes to the advancement of more effective, efficient, and humane human services through education, research, and civic engagement. The School offers five top-ranked, highly respected degree programs along with a range of certificate programs and dual degrees. SP2’s transdisciplinary research centers and initiatives — many collaborations with Penn’s other professional schools — yield innovative ideas and better ways to shape policy and service delivery. The passionate pursuit of social innovation, impact, and justice is at the heart of the School’s knowledge-building activities.
Elizabeth DeYoung, PhD
Research Scientist, Center for Guaranteed Income Research
Amy Beth Castro, PhD
Nidhi Tandon, MS, MPhil
Data Scientist (Social and Behavioral Statistician), Center for Guaranteed Income Research
Allison Thompson, MSS, PhD
Executive Director, Center for Guaranteed Income Research