By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
New York’s increasing rent and food prices have made it difficult for the average single New Yorker to afford to live within the five boroughs; around 53% of New Yorkers are rent-burned, which means they spend over 30% of their paycheck on rent alone. The cost of living in New York City is even more burdensome for young low-income expectant mothers. While these mothers are trying to do the best they can to provide for their babies, it is impossible to set them up for success while living in poverty. Holly Fogle runs Nido de Esperanza, a nonprofit that seeks to break the cycle of poverty by providing additional care during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. She says the first 1,000 days are the most important in terms of growth and development, and by financially helping women during their first years as mothers, a child’s life will be impacted greatly.
Fogle had worked with Nido de Esperanza for eight years providing low-income mothers with parental education, however, when the pandemic hit Nido de Esperanza wasn’t meeting their needs fast enough. During this moment of crisis, the women weren’t in need of parenting classes, but they needed the basics to survive like formula, diapers and food. In a time where many of these mothers were losing work and income, Fogle thought the easiest way to help was by giving them cash.
“Some of them [used the money] to buy diapers and formula, others used a little bit of the money to keep the landlord off their back, others paid their cell phone bills,” she says. “One mom, [who used the money to pay her phone bill] said to us ‘My mother is my lifeline. To be able to talk to her is the only thing that is keeping me sane as a new mother.’”
Seeing how unrestricted cash was helping new mothers, Fogle decided to create The Bridge Project, NYC’s first guaranteed income program for new and pregnant mothers. It is fully funded by the Monarch Foundation, a foundation started by Fogle and her husband. The program is also partnering with organizations that are deeply embedded in the communities the Bridge Project is serving such as ABC (Association to Benefit Children), Bronx Community Health Network, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation and more.
The Bridge Project provides mothers with monthly cash payments of either $500 or $1,000 — no questions asked. The program’s requirements are that a woman is pregnant, is a new mother whose income is less than $52,000 a year and she lives in either Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, Central Bronx and South Bronx. Flyers were posted around the neighborhoods, advertised on social media and information was spread via word of mouth. The application was open for only 10 days and 4,000 mothers applied.
The selection was completely randomized through a computer system. Everyone who had submitted an application was randomly assigned to a group. Fifty people were put in the $500 group and 50 in the $1,000 group, the rest of the applicants were not selected. One hundred mothers, of which 74% were Latino and 40% were Black, were chosen in the first cohort to receive payments that began in July 2021. Fogle says the average income of an applicant was $14,500 a year.
Throughout the 10 months the program has been running, the mothers have been able to provide for their children in ways they did not think was possible. Fogle knows there are some people who oppose the idea of a guaranteed income, or if they can get behind it, they might want to know where exactly the money is going. However, Fogle says that with this program she confirmed that a mother knows best.
“People will say to us, ‘Do you do financial literacy classes with them?’ We don’t. I think these women would be more of a financial genius than I ever would be if we were to give them $20 and ask them how to spend it. They know how to stretch that money in ways that I would not be good at,” she says. “[These mothers] are really, really powerful in terms of the innate abilities they have to do the very best for their child.”
The mothers participating in the program will be receiving the no questions asked cash for three years — the three years the Fogle believes are the most important in a child’s life.
“The reason we chose three years was because of the first 1,000 days of life. It is also at the third birthday that the child is able to enter some of the city’s programs such as Head Start even a little bit earlier in some cases,” she says.
Fogle hopes that through the data collected via this project, both the state and federal government can see this is a good investment.
“The child tax credit that we had over the second half of 2021 at the federal level was a version of this. Right. It gave a tax credit to the majority of the families in our country. And what we know is it lifted millions of children out of poverty,” she says. “It is much cheaper to be supporting these children and giving them the best start in life early on versus trying to deal with all the problems that can come down the pipeline when we don’t do those things.”
A second cohort of 500 mothers will be selected this summer to participate in the Bridge Project. This means five hundred babies whose lives will be changed in fundamental ways.
“I hope mothers leave with a sense that someone believes in them to be the best mother they can be, [they can] believe people they’ve never met believe in their hopes and their dreams and that they are doing the best job they can do. Everybody deserves to have a real chance in this country and their baby deserves to be able to follow their dreams and to make a difference in this city. So I hope they leave with that sense of trust and of dignity in this program, but also a sense of dreams and aspirations and optimism for the future.”
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