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A San Antonio grandmother used guaranteed basic income to afford groceries and rent a house: 'It's changed my station in life'

The San Antonio skyline at night
San Antonio is one of several cities in the US piloting guaranteed basic-income programs.
  • Ingrid Sullivan, 48, was able to afford rent and groceries with San Antonio's basic-income program.
  • Guaranteed basic-income gives low-income families cash payments to spend as they choose.
  • Many cities across the US are piloting basic income as a poverty solution. 

Guaranteed basic income brought Ingrid Sullivan peace.

The 48-year-old — a single mother of four and grandmother of four — received her first no-strings payment of nearly $2,000 in 2020 through San Antonio's GBI program. For two years after that, she got $400 payments each quarter.

Sullivan used the money to pay her bills for basic necessities: electricity, food, rent, and water.

"My life was always just a couple hundred dollars short," she told Business Insider. "For the first time, I can breathe."

San Antonio is one of several US cities that have piloted guaranteed basic-income programs in recent years. In Denver, Houston, Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, Harris County, Texas, and Durham, North Carolina, low-income participants are given no-strings cash payments for a set period of time. They can use the money how they choose, and many have reported using GBI to afford rent, buy groceries, and pay off debt.

Sullivan's story aligns with others BI has heard. For her, basic income meant overcoming housing and food insecurity for herself and her family.

"It wasn't like, 'Oh, this is extra money,'" she said. "This was money that filled a hole that wasn't there."

Ingrid Sullivan stands with her children and grandchildren.
Ingrid Sullivan (third from right) is a participant in San Antonio's guaranteed-basic income program.

Basic income helped Sullivan afford groceries and start renting a house

The poverty solutions nonprofit Uptogether leads the basic-income effort in San Antonio, using funds from the city, foundations, and private funders. The program first invested $5,108 in each of the 1,000 individuals participating over a 25-month period. Participants received an initial $1,908 payment in December 2020, followed by eight quarterly payments of $400 between April 2021 and January 2023.

All participants had household incomes that fell below 150% of the federal poverty line — which is $36,580 for a family of five — and many were facing financial challenges because of the pandemic.

UpTogether is running an additional income pilot that will end in December 2024, giving 25 UpTogether participants $500 a month for 18 months.

Sullivan has been part of both programs, and they've given her the safety net she needed.

She recently got remarried, but she was a single mother for many years and still gives financial support to her children, who are between the ages of 14 and 26.

She works as a program manager for low-income housing in the San Antonio area. A few years ago, she said she received a raise and promotion at her job. It was rewarding to be recognized for her hard work, she said, but her slight change in income also meant she no longer qualified for food benefits or Medicaid.

"Becoming self sufficient is the goal," Sullivan said. "But it still doesn't mean that you're not living poor."

Sullivan said she suddenly had to come up with the additional funds to pay for food and health insurance. It left her asking her children's school for a food pantry box because she didn't have enough money for groceries, she said.

With basic income, Sullivan said she has been able to pay for food, buy gas for her car, and achieve her goal of renting a house. The GBI money was the help she needed to afford a deposit and first and last month's rent.

Sullivan said she appreciates that GBI allowed her to spend money in a way that filled the financial gaps where her family needed it most. She added that the element of choice is what made basic income more helpful for her than other support programs.

"It's changed my station in life," she said.

With basic income, Sullivan is more confident about her financial future

The payments Sullivan has received from UpTogether have also set up her financial future, she said. Along with using the basic income money to pay bills, she has been able to balance her bank accounts, work toward paying off student loans and credit card debts, and build her credit score.

She now feels more financially stable for the future — even though she said it can be difficult to build savings and she often "doesn't have any extra."

In Arizona, South Dakota, Iowa, and parts of Texas, many Republicans are working to ban GBI programs. Some lawmakers have called basic income socialist and raised concerns that it makes people too reliant on the government.

Sullivan said she wishes more people understood the realities for families living paycheck-to-paycheck.

"They associate poverty with irresponsibility," she said. "Many people are in poverty due to life."

Going forward, Sullivan said she is committed to helping other families like San Antonio basic income helped her. She works with UpTogether on policy issues and helps individuals who are facing homelessness and housing insecurity. She said it's given her a sense of purpose.

"I've really taken this to heart," Sullivan added.

Have you benefited from a guaranteed basic-income program? Share your story with this reporter at allisonkelly@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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