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Report: Guaranteed income improved financial health for caregivers in Cambridge, MA

Photo of the Broad Canal in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows a body of water with sidewalks and buildings on either side and a blue sky above

Authored by: Carson Easterly and Allison Thompson

Photography by: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

Faculty & Research


In a report authored by the Center for Guaranteed Income Research (CGIR) at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), findings from the Cambridge Recurring Income for Success & Empowerment (RISE) program reveal a positive relationship between unconditional cash and caregivers’ financial health, employment, and parenting practices.

RISE, a guaranteed income program based in Cambridge, MA, was launched by Former Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and the Cambridge Community Foundation in partnership with Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC) and the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI). Funded by MGI and a robust coalition of committed residents and individuals, private foundations, businesses, and university partners Harvard and MIT, RISE provided 130 single caregivers with $500 monthly cash payments for 18 months beginning in September 2021.

The report about the RISE pilot is part of a series of CGIR publications collectively named The American Guaranteed Income Studies. It found that despite the pandemic-related stressors and inflation, as well as the associated increased cost of living, participants benefited from guaranteed income in several ways:

  • Improved financial health — On average, recipients of the guaranteed income reported higher incomes and lower income volatility and were better able to cover a $400 emergency expense compared to a control group of similar Cambridge residents who did not receive the direct cash.
  • Enhanced housing, utility, and food security — By the end of RISE, the treatment group experienced a lower housing cost burden, more stable utility costs, and higher food security compared to the control group.
  • Increased time and space for parenting — Guaranteed income allowed recipients to give more attention and support to their children, who in turn experienced improved educational outcomes compared to similar families without the direct cash.
  • Higher employment — Throughout the duration of the study, the treatment group on average experienced higher full-time employment compared to the control group.

“The findings from the RISE pilot highlight the impact of guaranteed income on the lives of single caregivers in Cambridge,” says Councillor Siddiqui, who initiated the program as mayor. “By providing direct cash, we’ve not only strengthened financial health but also empowered families to thrive. As we move forward with Rise Up, we renew our dedication to building a more resilient and inclusive community.” 

Cambridge Rise was implemented through the dedicated work of a wide range of project partners: Cambridge Community Foundation, City of Cambridge, Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC), UpTogether, Just A Start, Cambridge Housing Authority, Mass Law Reform, and the Mass Department of Transitional Assistance.

“Cambridge RISE was an excellent example of collective action,” says Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation. “The deep partnership between the public, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors combined our individual strengths to benefit families at a time of great need. It also paved the way for a powerful program expansion and learning agenda on how to use trust-based approaches like unconditional cash to help families move from crisis to stability.”

“This research validates what we have learned from the participants that we see every day at CEOC: guaranteed income has an incredibly positive impact on their financial well-being and quality of life. These kinds of programs need to continue,” says Tina Alu, executive director of Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee (CEOC).

Cambridge, a richly diverse city known for its international, immigrant, and refugee communities, is proud to be a sanctuary city marked by its inclusivity. However, the high cost of living in Cambridge makes it difficult for low-wage service workers to make ends meet, creating social and economic inequity among residents. With a commitment to ensuring that all families thrive, Cambridge serves as an exemplar in providing direct cash to mitigate some of the challenges faced by Cambridge families living in poverty.

Following the RISE pilot, the City of Cambridge scaled its guaranteed income program city-wide to provide $500 direct cash for 18 months to approximately 2,000 families experiencing poverty. This second phase, called Rise Up, is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and is currently in progress.

Noting the benefits of unconditional cash, one participant in the RISE pilot stated, “This [GI] it’s not just benefiting me, it’s benefiting my daughter. So I’m able to show her things and we’re able to do things together … and that puts her in a different place growing up. She gets to see these things. I get to show her things and that betters her.”

The RISE report acknowledges that though guaranteed income recipients spent more time with their children, they were also more likely to be employed full-time and were less likely to be stay-at-home parents compared to the control group. RISE participants often contended with the competing demands of raising their children, caring for other family members, and fulfilling paid work duties. 

The authors write, “Taken together, the findings of the RISE study indicate that GI is an effective strategy for promoting financial security. Yet, the structural constraints that recipients faced, including the need to work multiple jobs, inability to afford childcare, health complications, and responsibilities to elders, meant that some downstream effects were ambiguous.” The authors further note the importance of the City’s complementary strategies to support families, such as universal preschool, inclusionary zoning, and new educational opportunities.

As one RISE participant said, “I think the guaranteed income will put people, can put people in a position to have more, to be motivated … to see themselves in a better light so that they are more motivated to want more for [themselves]… to achieve more. It’s equity — giving people what they need.”

Cambridge residents were eligible to participate in RISE if they were aged 18 or older, had incomes below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and were single caregivers with at least one child under the age of 18. Researchers randomly selected 130 participants to serve as the treatment group to receive $500 monthly cash payments for 18 months, and they measured participant impact against a randomized control group of 156 similar residents who did not receive payments.

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.


  • Amy Beth Castro, PhD

    Amy Beth Castro, PhD

    Associate Professor


  • Allison Thompson, MSS, PhD

    Allison Thompson, MSS, PhD

    Executive Director, Center for Guaranteed Income Research