Podcast: Testing a Guaranteed Income Program in Durham, NC

Posted on July 9, 2021

Durham Guaranteed Income - GovLove
Amber MA PF
Amber Wade
Assistant to the Mayor
City of Durham, NC
Mark-Anthony Middleton
Council Member
City of Durham, NC
Bio | Twitter
Pierce Freelon
Council Member
City of Durham, NC
Bio | Twitter

Helping the justice-involved. Three guests joined the podcast to talk about a guaranteed income pilot program in the City of Durham, North Carolina. Amber Wade, Assistant to the Mayor, and City Council Members Mark-Anthony Middleton and Pierce Freelon shared why Durham is doing the pilot and how the pilot will be administered. They also discussed the target population and what they hope to see come from the pilot.

Host: Toney Thompson

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Learn More

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Durham among shortlist of cities to pilot guaranteed basic income

Episode Transcript

Message  00:00

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Toney Thompson  00:42

Coming to you from Durham, North Carolina, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. I’m Toney Thompson, your Giv Love co host for today’s episode. On today’s episode, we have three amazing guests from Durham, North Carolina, to talk to us about mayor’s for guaranteed income. First we have Amber Wade, Amber served as assistant to Mayor Steve Schewel for the city of Durham after receiving undergrad and graduate degrees from the University of Virginia, Amber’s career started as a classroom teacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After teaching she spent over eight years in operations and program management at Durham nonprofits including Durham children’s initiative, and MDC Inc. As a 13 year resident of Durham, she loves all things Durham, you’ll probably find her somewhere indulging her inner foodie at a local restaurant, or digging for treasures at a local thrift store. Second, we have Mark-Anthony. Mark-Anthony Mittleton was elected to the ward two seat at the Durham city council November of 2017. Mark-Anthony Middleton is the founder and senior pastor of the abundant health Christian Church in Durham, North Carolina. He’s also the founder and chief executive officer of Abundant Hope Inc. and the host of the On The Table Talk Show on the choice FM radio station. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Middleton has now resided in dorm for over 20 years. And third we have Pierce Freelon. Peirce is a musician and Durham City Council member representing Ward three. Born and raised in Durham, Peirce is the founder of Black Space, a digital makerspace in Durham, where young people learn about music, film, and coding. He is the writer, composer and co director of an animated series called history of white people in America which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and 2019. He co founded Beatmaking Labs, the PBS web series, which one best video essay for its6 episode heartbeats, a Fiji at the 2015 Daytime Emmy Awards. Pierce is the creative director of Norstar Church of the Arts, and has taught courses in the Department of Political Science at North Carolina Central University and Departments of Music and African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He lives in Durham with his wife for 12 years and their two children. To all three of you, thank you so much for joining us in today’s episode.

Mark-Anthony Middleton  02:58

Thank you.

Amber Wade  02:59

Thank you for having us.

Pierce Freelon  03:00

Thank you.

Toney Thompson  03:01

Yeah, so every episode for Gov Love, we start with the lightning round, this allows our listeners to get to know each of you better outside of just you know why you’re here today. And so I hope you’re ready for three great questions. Um, so let’s go in this order. Let’s do Amber, then Mark-Anthony, then Pierce. So are the first lightning round question that I have for the three of you today. Who would you want to play you in a movie biopic? 

Amber Wade  03:29

I’ll say Kerry Washington. 

Toney Thompson  03:31

Oh, excellent choice. Yeah.

Mark-Anthony Middleton  03:35

I found out last year low key Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors but but makeup would probably be challenged with getting him to play me so I’m gonna go with that brother Sterling Brown from from This Is Us. I think he’s got the emotive depth to pull it off.

Toney Thompson  03:49

I love it. I love it. Piers, how about yourself?

Pierce Freelon  03:51

Oh, wow. What a question. So many wonderful actors to choose from, I would have to say Childish Gambino, what’s his government name? 

Toney Thompson  04:03

Donald Glover.

Pierce Freelon  04:04

Donald Glover, yeah. I think he could do me.

Toney Thompson  04:10

Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. Know, you’re all very humble, none of you chose yourself so. 

Mark-Anthony Middleton  04:17

I’m too close to the project. 

Toney Thompson  04:21

Alright, second lightning round question. What are you, what are you currently reading? Amber, let’s start with you.

Amber Wade  04:27

So I’m about to start a book called American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson. It’s a spy novel.

Toney Thompson  04:34

Oh, nice. Excellent. Cool. Mark-Anthony, how about yourself?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  04:37

So I just picked up leadership in turbulent time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of my favorite historians, and I’m re-reading of the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky.

Toney Thompson  04:46

Oh, excellent choice. I have leadership on my bookcase somewhere. I gotta get to that. Pierce?

Pierce Freelon  04:54

I’m reading, well re-reading, Emergent Strategy by Adrian Marie Brown, which is one of my favorite books. And I’ve also been reading a lot of children’s books, because I’ve been getting into kind of writing children’s media. So there’s a really great book about a black Father doing his daughter’s hair called Hair Love with Matthew cherry, which my wife got me for Father’s Day. So that’s been, that’s been my most recent reading. 

Toney Thompson  05:26

Awesome. Those are all great choices. So again, I want to thank all three of you for being on the podcast with us. The reason why I invited y’all to speak is because we’ve been doing, I’ve been doing a lot of research and interviewing with people talking about guaranteed income over the last couple of months. And the last, this is a part two of a podcast series. So the first part I actually talked with Michael Tubbs, the founder of Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income, about, you know, his career journey and arc through local government, and why he founded Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income. And so I thought, you know, as a follow up to that podcast to talk about an actual specific city who’s doing a guaranteed income pilot. And actually, I thought of Durham since I’m here and I’ve and I’ve learned about we were doing a pilot for the last. I guess I found out what, six months ago? It’s been that long, roughly, yeah. So yeah, I just want to talk to the three of Austin’s who are spearheading this great project, this great pilot, here in Durham and to learn more about your plans for advancing this work. But before before we get into that, just want to learn a little bit more about yourselves and how you got here today to Durham to serve the people of Durham. So the first question that I have is, what do you want listeners to know about Durham and the people who live here?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  06:45

Sure, thank you. You know, I feel that as as an elected official, one of my chief jobs is to be a chief cheerleader, and brand ambassador for Durham. If you’re not a fan of Durham, you shouldn’t be looking to sit in one of these seats that Pierce and I or even Amber I guess, hold. So I want first off I want folks to know that Durham is the anti cookie cutter city be it architecturally, or places to hang out. Durham, Durham is a, you know, it’s I love jazz and I love the improvisational nature of jazz, where everybody gets a vote on the bandstand and you follow a melody but when you get to do your solo you can create right on the spot and Durham is is the ultimate, I think the jazzy city, you know, we create on the spot, you’re not going to find us anywhere else. And the one thing I’d like people to know about Durham is that we are the most intolerant city of intolerance. We can’t stand it here in Durham, you know, if anybody picking on you there, um, we can’t stand bullies. We can’t stand folks that aren’t loving and open to all kinds of people. So it is they are the most intolerant people of intolerance I’ve ever experienced. 

Toney Thompson  07:15

I love that, that’s great.

Pierce Freelon  07:57

Yeah, well, building on that, I mean, Durham, to me is just a, I think it’s, if you look at it in its broader context, you know, it’s a it’s a southern city. And it’s a city that is really in this burgeoning area, the triangle with you know, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, we’ve got the Research Triangle Area here, which is a huge Technology Center. It’s a medical center of the world. It’s a sports center, with North Carolina Central here and Duke University, the Durham Bulls there, the culture here is super rich, I think of Durham as as the cultural nucleus of our triangle community here. For some of the same jazzy reasons that brother Mark-Anthony just mentioned. And I think of the legacy of folks in Durham who wear multiple hats, I think about um, you know, Pauli Murray, who was, you know, Episcopal priest slash lawyer and policy makers, slash women’s activists slash black activists, queer person, like so many identities, Ernie Barmes, you know, football player, slash artists, slash civil rights leader. We just wear multiple hats and identities and that goes back to black Wall Street. There, there’s so many different flavors here. And such a rich legacy of black entrepreneurship, community abundance, and in unique relationship with some of the white power structure. You know, we didn’t have the same outcomes that you’ve seen in some other black cities, but then some things are the same. Some of the some of the highway 147 you know, we saw that in Detroit, we saw that in Portland. So it’s interesting, we share a shared history with other black cities around around the country, but also have our own unique story, destiny, history. And so yeah, it’s just a it’s just a really unique place and a beautiful city I’m proud to call home.

Toney Thompson  10:15

Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely unique. And I have loved being here for the last, I guess, eight, eight years or so not consecutively. So the next question I have for for all three of you, and I always like to ask my, my guests, this is about, you know, we are all in local government or connected to local government in some way. And so I’m always interested, how, you know, guests of this podcast get into local government, because we’re talking about, you know, serving serving a public servant somebody, a group of people greater than ourselves. So, so what made you decide to serve in local government? And, and can you tell our listeners, what your journey was to get where you are today? And I and I want to start with with Amber.

Amber Wade  10:58

Yes, so, um, you know, I don’t have I think that the typical background of someone who you think may have worked in local government, I started as a classroom teacher, I taught fourth and fifth grade for five or six years, and decided to transition to working in community nonprofits afterwards. And so, worked in a nonprofit that, you know, happened to be partnering with the city on a children’s savings program. So it was sort of introduced to the idea that, you know, local government is more than, you know, making sure our streets are paved, and, you know, our roads, our transportation is is, you know, where it needs to be. And, yes, so I think a lot of my work, like you said, is have this thread of service for working with kids, and then working with families in the community. And so I think local government was kind of like a natural, you know, fit to serving residents in the city that I, you know, live in and call home and have a personal stake in so I think that was, you know, my journey here.

Toney Thompson  12:15

Oh, yeah. That’s great. Thank you for sharing that. You know, I I often hear that, you know, sometimes people get a calling to do this. And so, I was really great to hear that you you experienced that as well. Marc-Anthony, How about yourself?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  12:33

Yeah, my peer group they just told me to shut up or get involved. They were sick of hearing me out might be pontificating, and me kind of writing prescriptions and complaining. Seriously, though, when I, when I was a kid, I used to watch shows like MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, and I’m gonna date myself, Nightline and Ted Koppel was still banging, with my dad and I had this, you know, this, I had this real hunger and fascination with geopolitical issues, and these big macro world issues, be it Middle East or nuclear proliferation. But then I realized that when I left my home in the morning, you know, everything that I encountered that kind of got on my nerves that day, wasn’t covered on Nightline, there, whether it was a pothole or the trains being late, or cops messing with me, or the smell of garbage, everything that I was encountering, that really affected me in a very visceral right now kind of way was local. It was local government. The White House wasn’t, you know, checking for me, the state legislature, in many ways wasn’t checking for me, it was City Hall, it was the mayor, it was my council people. So very early on, I made a connection, that’s the things that really, before we can even get to talking about the big issues if I can kind of channel Maslow, you know, dealing with those big macro issues, you got to get to work on time, you know, you got to make sure your axle isn’t busted on a pothole, and you got to make sure your kids have a safe park to play in. And, and, and things of that nature. So, you know, for me, it’s just very simply that the intellectual proposition that the stuff that affects us from the moment you wake up in the morning and leave your front door, are local issues. And and I was being partly facetious, but I really, you know, that, you know, you know, you get in with the barber shop and talk with folks about issues and at some point, somebody calls you on it. And then I was part of the leadership apparatus of a pretty involved local organization here in Durham called Durham Can, which is nonpartisan, we don’t endorse candidates, we just focus on issues. And a lot of those issues were, were about what happens locally. And even if you look at Big Picture issues, whether it’s taxation, military policy, oftentimes they have a very localized corollary. There’s an on ramp you can find, even if you’re interested in big macro issues, there’s an a local on ramp you can almost always find that will allow you to get involved. So it was a very kind of organic intellectual evolution for me to get involved in local politics. And then I got called out really quite honestly, by folk who I talked to about, hey, you know, don’t talk about it be about it. So here I am hanging out with folk like Pierce and Amber looking smarter than I am. because, because I hang out with folk like them.

Toney Thompson  15:15

Thank you for sharing that. Pierce, how about your own journey to local government?

Pierce Freelon  15:19

Yeah, it was, it was interesting. As, as we were chatting, my mom was calling me I’m looking at my phone thinking about her. I’m also in my office where there’s a, I went to go grab this photo collage that my mom made. These are all pictures from my childhood. If you look real close right here that’s one of my mom’s first concert, and my mother is a jazz vocalist, this says committee to re-elect Bill Bell, this must have been like 1985 when he was like with the county commissioners. I’m playing with brother Yousef and friends. And I just you know, Durham just has this long, proud history of black political leadership, one of the oldest institutions in the country, you know, black political institutions is there on the Durham committee on the affairs of black people going on a, you know, a century almost, we’ve been around. And, you know, people like Mayor Bell have been a part of my life since my childhood. I remember one of my first really clear kind of memories of getting active in the community from my childhood was actually canvassing for Harvey Gantt who was running for Senate. When I was in like Middle School, and my dad was an architect here in Durham, Harvey was also an architect in Charlotte. He was the first black mayor of Charlotte. They did like a rally for him in our house. And it was just a really big part of my childhood. It was one of our first times going around knocking doors canvassing, doing that kind of political work and, and to me, it wasn’t it, you know, Mark-Anthony, you can probably relate, you know, growing up in kind of the black nationalist tradition, there’s a segment of black folks that don’t mess with politicians, politricks and this and that, and it’s legit, because, you know, the US government, from national local hasn’t always been kind to us more often than not, they’ve been very unkind. But with with Harvey, with Bell, with Mickey, and others, these guys were like legends, they were superheroes to me. And they were, they were fighting the good fight, you know, with Harvey Gantt, he was fighting against Jesse Helms who was like the Donald Trump of the 90s. You know, and, you know, for him to, for him to win was such a, you know, it’s like a pre Obama in some ways, in the way that we all put our hopes and aspirations and dreams into this brother ascending to victory, and he didn’t win. But you know, in many ways, he paved the victory for Obama to win North Carolina in ’08 with the inroads that that he built with that historic campaign. So you know, my first job, you know, coming out of high school, one of my first jobs, I did work for the Department of solid waste in the city of Durham in high school as well. But one of my first gigs out of college, or during college was working for an organization called Voices Fourth and Families, Mayor Bell hooked me up with that job, connected me with the organizer, and we were going out doing voter registration, you know, knocking on doors. And so that kind of political organizing work, it’s just a part of the fabric of and legacy of Durham. And, you know, if you’ve been around long enough and pay close enough attention to those names, Pauli Murray mentioned earlier, who was a Durham native, she didn’t, you know, stay here in Durham, but we remember and, and claim her as a hillside Hornet super hard for the role she played in Brown versus Board of Education. But you know, from from Pauli Murray to Mayor Bill, making the shop, and even even hard began at the at the state level has always been like an important part of the fabric of my family, my childhood, and in black black Durham.

Toney Thompson  19:13

Yeah, thank you so much for all three of you sharing, you know, your journey to local government and I wanted to, you know, start this interview asking about, you know, what is unique about Durham and how you all got to local government, because I think it’s important contents for as we start talking about this guaranteed income pilot, and I would encourage our listeners to go check out that first part to actually learn more about you know, what Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income is and what they’re trying to do over the next year, year and a half. But, you know, my my next question is for Piers. Why was it important for Durham to collaborate with Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income to be a pilot city, for for this work?

Pierce Freelon  19:56

Because Durham is dope, innovative, progressive, and awesome. Like That’s, that’s the short answer. What’s cool, here’s another cool thing about Durham. I inferred this earlier when I talked about sports. But you know, the institutions that those sport teams are connected to Duke University, North Carolina Central University, anchor institutions in Durham, and they produce world renowned scholars that think about public policy in some of the most innovative ways. So, you know, there’s a guy at Duke, named Sandy Darity who’s written a lot about, he’s an economist, but he’s written a lot about kind of innovative strategies and possibilities for kind of radical policies to redress historic and systemic, institutional racism and oppression. And he just dropped an incredible book about reparations. But prior to that was writing quite a lot of bit about universal basic income and the merits of a guaranteed income program versus like a worker’s guaranteed pilot. And, you know, these are conversations that are happening at the national level, you know, Darity and his colleagues, you know, they’re, they were working with the Bernie Sanders administration to get some of their policies, some of the stuff that ended up in the green, new Green Deal, came straight out of the playbook of scholars based here in Durham, North Carolina. And, you know, Sandy, I grew up with him and his son in Aden, his eldest son, and I were in a rap group growing up and remembered hearing these kinds of conversations happening around the household from at the kitchen table, you know, for years. And so, you know, reparations may have been a new thing people were hearing about this year because of the movement for black lives and other recent things. But these are things that we grew up with here in Durham, and have been a part of our fabric and our conversation for a long time, because it’s one of the most educated places in the world. So, you know, I really, I take a lot of pride in that. And I think that because of our connection to North Carolina, central to Duke, to the the scholars that live here and go to schools, and church, and the grocery store, with the politicians and the creatives, there’s just this robust, diverse, eclectic community of folks. And I think that that unique milieu, that that mix of folks produces innovative ideas, and, you know, our public servants, you know, from Mark-Anthony, myself, Steve, DeDreana we, you know, we have creative ideas, because we’re surrounded by this kind of creative energy that we talked about when you initially asked your first question about why Durham, tell us about Durham, you know, trickles in the create that creativity, that jazzy improvisational energy that Mark-Anthony was talking about, it’s a part of our, the way that we legislate. And I can speak from personal experience now having, having been in space with Mark-Anthony, he’s a, he’s a great band leader and follower when he needs to, you know, we all kind of have this, this kind of ability to occupy different roles and different hats. And it’s just a, I think it’s just a natural outgrowth of the flavor of Durham. Not to mention, sorry, I know, I’m talking a lot, but I have to, if there was a band leader to our band, Mark-Anthony, it would be our city manager, who is incredible. And Amber can talk more about it on the staff side, but I’m constantly impressed with how our staff takes these, you know, visionary ideas, and doesn’t bat an eye at it, they figure out how to make it practical, they’re looking at other cities to find out, you know, how it can be applied to Durham. And without, you know, without bitin’ we’re learning and building our own Durham version of what guaranteed income looks like, and that the most important, you know, members of our band are definitely the staff and I’ve been completely blown away by Amber and Ryan and the other folks have been championing this on the staff side for sure.

Toney Thompson  24:20

Yeah. Thank you so much for adding that context, which and I think something else very important that you said is, you know, even though you know, we’re doing this interview through the context of Mayor’s for a Guaranteed Income, which was started by Michael Tubbs because of, you know, the pilot that he did when he was mayor, for for over in California. You know, I think it was a point for you to say that this idea has been talked about for a long time across multiple places across America. And in the interview, Michael says, you know, he kind of got that idea when he listening to Martin Luther King Jr. You know, when he was talking about a for guaranteed income, and so, even though now we’re in the space where We’re doing multiple pilots across the nation, there’s really been, you know, this has been going on and talked about in this country for for decades now. So I really appreciate you adding that context. And, and I just want to ask Amber because, you know, what Pierce said, you know, I think it’s so important for pilots like this, there has to be this this connection between leadership, so the council members and administration and staff. So, Amber, could you talk about, you know, how on from the administrat- on the staff, administration side of local government, how that support, why it was important for us to, to take part of this pilot and from that, from that perspective?

Amber Wade  25:41

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would 100% second Pierce’s kudos to manager Page. I mean, she has really shown just unwavering commitment to this program, you know, to the city’s both financial and sort of, you know, staff time to this effort. So I think it is, it has been incredibly important to the development of this program, that we have her support, and she really has kind of thrown, you know, all resources to bear to helping this get off the ground, so.

Toney Thompson  26:27

Yeah, thanks. Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. It’s been awesome to see, you know, from an from a staff perspective, that support as well. So my next question is for for Mark-Anthony, how does this pilot incorporate into the goals and strategies and initiatives that Durham is currently championing throughout the city?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  26:46

Let me let me first just like saying let me associate myself, that means you don’t need to say anything else, everything a person said ditto, I want to dittoise and associate myself with everything that brother Pierce and my sister Amber have said about our staff and everything that Pierce has said, I think he just nailed it beautifully. That’s right, dittoise, hashtag, patent pending. You know, our Mayor I think really, when he first was elected, beautifully crystallized something that was already in the atmosphere in Durham. We call it shared economic prosperity. You know, when when each of us have had some type of iteration of folk, getting some of the pie in Durham, and this is directly tied to a narrative about Durham. Durham, as I said, we’re we’re chief cheerleader, we’re brand ambassadors. And I believe in the good news, if I might, about Durham, Durham is an emergent city with the city on the rise you, you know, there’s no list of anything, the best fill in the blank that Durham isn’t showing up in. Startup capital of the South, best place for millennials, fourth most educated city, one of the highest per capita PhD rates in the country, foodie, town, you know, culture, Pierce has already enumerated some of that stuff. So there’s this Durham, this robust pamphlet Durham, as I like to call it, the Durham that goes on the pamphlet that we communicate to the world, that is true. But there’s another story. There’s another narrative in Durham, where folk who were born here, who built Durham, the very DNA of Durham, who aren’t participating in that narrative, who aren’t participating in that prosperity. And and that non participation can be linked to a whole number, a whole list of other issues. I don’t care whether you talk about crime, you talk about the achievement gap, all of us in Durham or I should say most of us in Durham understand that there are certain issues that we can’t police our way out of there are root cause issues. And many of those issues come down to opportunity, to economics, to access. So with under that larger rubric of trying to come up with ways whether it’s through good corporate citizens having vocational training and internships, identifying pathways in our school system for young people to participate early in career paths and be exposed under that general rubric of shared economic prosperity, guaranteed income or universal basic income. And Dr. Darity is very good about admonishing us about the nomenclature, some type of guaranteed income, directly goes to lack of resources and directly goes to addressing the issue of lack, addressing the issue of resources. You know, your calculus, your math is different when when your money is tight. And, and you can talk about, you know, personal responsibility, and some of our folk like to get into conversations about morals and values. But when you’re staring at hungry children, and you have no money and no means to make money, your calculus gets different. I don’t care who you are. When you’re placed in that situation, you’re gonna start doing math differently. So guaranteed income, something that Peirce has talked about in his public life, something that I’ve talked about in my public life, we’ve been talking about it in Durham for years, is something that directly aligns with our desire for shared economic prosperity, for folk to- now, is it a panacea? Of course not. But what it is, is guaranteed income, our pilot is not going to catapult you into the 1%. It’s not going to make you wealthy, we’re not giving out mansions and exotic cars. But what we are saying is that, by virtue of your humanity, by virtue of your residency, by virtue of your citizenship, there is a line beneath which we will not allow you to fall just by virtue of your heartbeat, by virtue of your breath. So So this isn’t about making everybody rich. But this is about saying that we are affirming everyone’s humanity, and recognizing that folk who aren’t doing a calculus of how am I going to pay my rent or feed my children make better neighbors, that’s good policy. Folk who aren’t who are free to pursue other opportunities, build a stronger community, that’s good for all of us, no matter what zip code you live in. So for me, guaranteed income, this pilot is directed, a direct, an organic, and natural extinct extension of the work we’re trying to do with shared economic prosperity in Durham.

Toney Thompson  31:23

Yeah, thank you for for sharing that. And, you know, obviously shared economic prosperity is a part of the city’s strategic plan. So you know, directly ties to that work as well. Amber, you know, what organizations and community partners will the city be collaborating with, to conduct this pilot?

Amber Wade  31:46

So we have some incredible experts and advocates in Durham who are really primed and ready to do this kind of collaborative work. So once we decided on our focus population, we assembled a working group that met weekly to really help us build out the framework of this program. This group was composed of representatives from our criminal justice resource center, several nonprofits that were working around reentry supports, we had staff members from lots of city departments, technology solutions, economic and workforce development, community development, we have our county’s Department of Social Services on board. So these these folks, just were, you know, really dedicated and really gave their time to help us really conceive and envision what Durham’s program would look like. I think our biggest community partner is going to be the nonprofit organization that we select to administer this program. So the city’s not going to actually implement it. We released an RFP to identify this partner, and are very excited that the process just closed at the end of last week. And so we, you know, hopefully very soon we’ll know who that nonprofit is, and can start working, you know, really closely with them on the implementation of this program.

Toney Thompson  33:14

Oh, that’s great. Amber, something you said in your response, actually leads me to my next question about, you know, focus population and something that Mark-Anthony said previously about, you know, there’s a difference between universal basic income and guaranteed income, which you know Sandy Garrity talks about, and also, Michael Tubbs talked about as well, you know, this guaranteed income is intended to target a specific group of people. So for this pilot, that Durham is conducting, you know, what is the target population that, that we that we will be focusing on for this pilot? and Mark-Anthony, our Pierce can answer this question. So yeah, that focus population, why was it important for the city to choose that population for for this pilot?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  34:01

Well, thanks for that, um, there is, we had a lot of conversation about this, and a lot of sharing about this, there really, whatever population you would have picked, there would have been a compelling case why that would have been the population we go with. There was no population that didn’t check a lot of boxes, or wouldn’t have been an excellent target population. But But ultimately, we came down on on brothers and sisters that have been justice involved, that of returning, in part because so many of the challenges one faces, economically, socially, from an employment point of view, that population ingenders so many of those issues, in addition to oftentimes, skill sets because they’ve been away having the skill sets for the new jobs in this economy. There’s a stigma of having been incarcerated, there’s that that moment you sweat when you have to check that box, you know that mark, and thank goodness Durham has adopted Ban the Box. But But all of those things, not having money to begin with. Even if you get a job, do you have money to take public transportation to get there? So this population for us represented so many of the challenges, again, that any other population a case can be made for. But there was something else that really made this population intriguing for us to target. Or I don’t like that where I should say focus on and that is, Durham has already done a great deal of work in this population. We had a pre existing architecture, and track record with dealing with from our expunction and restoration program, DEAR, our returning citizens program, so we’ve got some incredible partners, community partners doing work that focus on this population. Durham has been nationally recognized for our licensed restoration and expunction work that we’ve done with this population. So we already had this incredible cache of relationships of pre existing architecture around this population that we thought from an administrative and managerial point of view, it would, it would, you know, be good for us to leverage we’re already positioned to leverage these relationships, leverage the work we’ve already done, to really hit the ground running with this particular pilot. So those two factors, the the number of challenges that this population deals with, coupled with the work that Durham had already done, made this we thought, a pretty attractive place to start, again, fully acknowledging that any population, and that’s why we wanted ultimately to be universal, the ultimate idea, is for this, for these compelling cases around the country, to reach critical mass to compel the federal government to do this, and then we can stick universal on it. So all of those other population groups that aren’t being focused on in this particular pilot, will become part of the universal scope. And I was just saying that, you know, most great ideas from a national level started at the local level. I mean, you’ve, you’ve heard, it said that municipalities oftentimes are the laboratories of democracy, there was a black panthers feeding program in Oakland that led to the free breakfast program nationally, that was a localized issue. When President Obama initiated 21st Century Policing, you know, that wasn’t a federal idea that that was a groundswell of activists and brothers and sisters in the streets from around the country that were pushing for police reform. So very often, these universal, sweeping macro programs actually started in a municipal laboratories. And I’m just very proud that Durham is adding its name appropriately so to a list of city, Sister cities around the country that will help to create a groundswell and a critical mass to compel the government to truly make a universal, but until then, we do what we can at the local level. And brothers and sisters that have been justice involved, are who will be focused on, focusing on in Durham, hopefully building up the corpus of knowledge for guaranteed income. Thank you. I like I like the phrase laboratory. I usually tell people it’s a crucible of democracy. So I have a follow up question to that, because, you know, the term justice involved is something, you know, we hear a lot in Durham, but maybe not, that that phrase may not be used so universally in other places for our listeners. So what does justice involved mean? And what does it mean, specifically for the people who will be potentially eligible to receive this pilot? And, you know, Amber, or Pierce can can answer that question. But, you know, in general, what does justice involved mean, and what does it mean for people, the potential recipients or beneficiaries of, of the pilot?

Amber Wade  39:05

So I’m happy to take a little bit of that. So we are defining justice involved, as and really focusing on individuals who are sort of recently returning home from prison. And we have, we still have a little bit of work to do to define what that time period is, is going to be some of that work is going to be done with the nonprofit that we select, but really focusing on individuals who are coming home from like a North Carolina prison, a prison in another state, a federal prison, but returning home to a Durham address.

Toney Thompson  39:47

Gotcha. Thank you for that clarity. I appreciate that. So to delve into a little more specifics about the intended pilot work, how many residents, justice involved residents, are you hoping to include in this pilot work? Let me start there. Yeah. How many residents are you hoping to include in the pilot? 

Amber Wade  40:09

So it will be 115 individuals.

Toney Thompson  40:12

 So, okay 115. So is that 115 individuals who will be receiving some kind of guaranteed income benficiary?

Amber Wade  40:22

Yeah, no, the 115 individuals will get $500 a month for 12 months.

Toney Thompson  40:28

Oh, wow. Okay, awesome. And, and you said that you’re, you have a nonprofit who’s going to manage the work. So that’s great. What specific- and this is a question I have for Pierce specifically- what specific challenges do you foresee having to overcome for this pilot to be successful over this 12 month period? 

Pierce Freelon  40:49

Well, I’d love to hear Amber chime in on this as well, you know, one of the challenges is just the bottom line, you know, $500,000 is a great, a great foundation to kickstart the effort, but I know, the Twitter guy, Jack Dorsey, his pockets are a lot deeper than that. And, you know, to reach the number of people we want to reach, not just to have the impact we want to have, but to collect the data that we need, we need to get a test group and then another group of folks that we’re going to study who don’t receive the funds, but are also justice involved so we can track and compare, you know, the, you know, that’s science 101, you have your control group. So that’s a big group of people and 500k doesn’t, isn’t quite nailing it. We had some some trouble with our first request for nonprofits that went out, because the admin fees weren’t a part of the, weren’t a part of the pitch. So we made some revisions, did some tweaks, send it back out, and now we’ve gotten a better response. I mean, I think that’s good. You know, you talked about the crucible of municipal government. A lot of it is trial and error. We tried something, we weren’t getting the responses we thought, so we went to those folks and said, what do you need, they said oh, we need those admin fees. Our city manager Wanda Page said bet, we’ll add that in there. We did it again, we got what we wanted, or better response. So I think that’s fine, that’s appropriate, but you know, meanwhile, we were intending to launch this thing in April. And now we’re looking at an October launch. I’m personally glad that we had a little more bandwidth, because the April turnaround was, was really, really fast. And it’s like four months get this thing off the ground. That felt like a rushed pace. But I also know that you know, poverty is, is a constant problem in our community. So So, you know, we’re getting folks excited about it, it’s in the paper, we’re doing guaranteed income. And now having to delay several months has been a challenge. So you know, that all these things are just normal parts of municipal government, things work slowly, bureaucracy is slow, there’s never enough money to do all the things that you want to do. I wouldn’t say any of that is unique to guaranteed income. But for us, I think it’s really going to be about getting the funds to round out the, like private resources to match some of the funds that we’ve already gotten. And to figure out how we’re going to get the a wide enough study group to get the results in so that we can do what Mark-Anthony already said, which was make the case at the national level to get them to cut the trillions dollar check that we’ll need to make this truly universal. So yeah, those are those are some of the challenges. But like I said earlier, our staff is incredibly dope. They’re talented, hardworking, creative, and are getting it done even with those challenges.

Toney Thompson  43:58

Absolutely. That’s absolutely true. I had a follow up question for Amber. So you said $500 over a 12 month period, so that’s $6,000 total. And so will that be distributed per month? Or is it, will it be a lump sum? 

Amber Wade  44:14

No, so it’s gonna be a monthly payment. Mayor’s for Guaranteed Income allows us the use of a through a partnership with an organization called Steady, they use the, basically an app, like a smartphone app, where participants will link current deposit accounts and the money will be transferred to the, to their bank accounts through this app. And if a participant is unbanked, Steady will work to set them up an account and provide them a debit card so that they can use the purchases. 

Toney Thompson  44:49

Awesome. Absolutely awesome. What outcomes are y’all hoping to see once the pilot concludes? And I’ll ask that directly to Amber.

Amber Wade  45:01

So it’s probably, you know, intuitive that we are interested in outcomes around, you know, economic security. But I think we also want to see how this income kind of helps people show up in a different way for themselves and their family. And as, you know, Mark-Anthony said, for their community and their neighbors, you know, I think we want to see that people have used this income to make whatever decisions they feel is best to support their families at that particular time of their life. You know, we do hope there’s more income stability, you know, less food or housing insecurity, we want to see better employment. With this particular group, we want to see no rearrest, no recidivism, you know, and we also hope that people in general have less stress, you know, have better physical and mental health, you know, have more hope, can be better parents, spouses, friends. So I think it’s, you know, not only the the economic piece that we are looking to see improvement upon, but just just showing up kind of in a different, a different way for themselves and the people around them.

Toney Thompson  46:15

Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s something that’s very important. You know, since you know, we are working with a justice involved group, seeing that, I guess, breaking that cycle of recidivism, will be something very important to see as a pilot, which will be interesting. How often are you planning to check in with, with the participants of the pilot? On a monthly or semi monthly basis?

Amber Wade  46:46

So there’s going to be several sort of several types of data collection going on during this pilot. I’m not 100% sure of the frequency, yet, we’re still working out some of that with the Center for Guaranteed Income Research, that’s kind of doing our research, but it will be collected through surveys, like one on one interviews, and there’s also some sort of really quick like, sort of text message base check in our participants will do, periodically.

Toney Thompson  47:18

Gotcha, gotcha.

Mark-Anthony Middleton  47:19

It should be said that this is this is it’s an important aspect of this pilot and this, this whole, the animating proposition of this is that this is value free, no strings attached money. So one of the one of the things we’ve got to navigate is to do data collection in the least invasive way as possible without it feeling that there’s a causal linkage between your participation and filling out surveys and getting this money. The proposition is that, you know, more resources are better as opposed to less resources. And just like, you know, a millionaire stockbroker can take their check and buy a vacation home or cocaine, this is income, and, and whatever the response is from people and I share all of the views that the things we hope to see. But whatever the responses are, we want to make this as real world as possible. So if folks take the money, and blow it on things that you might consider, and some of the email, I don’t know about Pierce and Amber’s inbox, but I’ve gotten some crazy emails that, you know, basically, we’re subsidizing pathology, they’re just going to buy, you know, grape soda, weed, and crab legs, you know, with the money. But whatever the outcome is, even if folk take the money and spend it on whatever, that’s not necessarily failure of the pilot, because this is guaranteed income. And the proposition is that more resources, overall, will put people in a position to make better choices. But we’re not starting off with kind of a list of virtue vice or naughty, naughty, you spent your money on whatever you you spend your money on, you know, things that we consider good. So as we collect data, one thing to be kept in mind is that we’re going to try and do it in a way that does not create the impression that this money is linked to your participation in data collection, because it’s because it’s not, it’s string free to see what happens real world.

Toney Thompson  49:15

Right. Thank you for that clarity. One of the things that I, that I potentially perceive as a unique challenge for Durham choosing justice involved residents as beneficiaries for this pilot, is that you know, being justice involved doesn’t just impact the individual but their families as well. Have have has the City started to have conversations around what will potentially happen with the with the $500 monthly stipend, if somebody’s a part of the pilot, does become re -nvolved with the justice system?

Mark-Anthony Middleton  49:51

We did have, I remember a conversation in the working group and I kind of intoned what I what I said now, if you know if a person whose salaried gets locked up, a person who has a job, they get locked up for the weekend or whatever. Chances are that they’re not immediately fired, that their income will continue. And oftentimes, the outcomes for whatever reason they’ve been locked up, the outcome will oftentimes be linked to how much you know how the resources are, whether it’s the ability to post a bond, or the ability to get a lawyer. So in the real world, people with jobs get locked up. Sometimes they lose a job, sometimes it’s for 48 hours, and it doesn’t affect, you know, their job, if they’re salary, they’re not hourly workers, the checks will keep coming. So we certainly and that question was raised, and maybe Amber can chime in, but my thinking is that, you know, if it’s incomes, it’s guaranteed income, not connected to behavior, you know, virtue or vice, that, that that may be a real world data point. How did that guarantee income affect this person’s ability to navigate the justice system? Because remember, we don’t know whether they’re guilty or not, they can be locked up on a humbug. But having income and resources oftentimes dictates the outcome for folks that have been locked out whether you have income or not. So you know, from where I sit, that that does not, that is not an automatic disqualifier to participate in this because it’s guaranteed income. And we’re looking for real world outcomes when you face real world scenarios. And being locked up is one of them. Having your car booted is another one, having your car towed, having a water pipe break. These are all real world scenarios, that we want to see what guaranteed income, the impacts that guaranteed income has on dealing with those vicissitudes in life. And Amber, if you want to amplify it, please feel free.

Amber Wade  51:57

Yeah, I think I think you’re spot on. I think what we say is that the guaranteed income follows the person. And so it’s it’s it would be you know, just the same as if someone is in our program received a guaranteed income and moved away from Durham during this during this pilot. So I think Mark-Anthony is correct that the income is not going to stop, we would we would be interested to see sort of how how the income was used even even in the case of someone being rearrested or going back to prison.

Toney Thompson  52:36

Yeah, thank you for that. So I just have a couple of questions. Two more questions for y’all. Jump ahead five years, how do you hope this pilot has impacted Durham residents and and the nation? And I’ll start with Pierce.

Pierce Freelon  52:52

Yeah, that’s a that’s a good one. Um, how do I think so, the question is five years from now, how do I think this pilot will impact?

Toney Thompson  53:02

Yeah, how do you hope this pilot has impacted Durham?

Pierce Freelon  53:05

Yeah, well, I hope that, um, you know, justice involved community is one of our most vulnerable communities. And I hope that they get the support and dignity to do what brother Mark-Anthony said earlier, which was, you know, to create a, to create a floor to create a safety net that we won’t let anyone fall through. And too often, you know, because of stigma, because of institutional racism, because of structural systems that, you know, make justice involved on top of being you know, person of color on top of being someone who experiences poverty or homelessness, you know, these things have kind of compound impacts on people’s lives that make it hard to get a job or to get access to housing, hard to get food stamps. And so here’s a redemptive measure, a measure that we hope to be able to provide some, some support for those folks. And like, like Mark-Anthony said, is, like, let’s not be oblivious to the fact that this improves all of our collective lives, those make better neighbors when they can, you know, use the $500 to help make ends meet, so that, you know ajob application or an opportunity with, you know, to further their education can be explored. Like, that’s a net benefit that serves all residents of Durham, not just justice involved, folks. I think about the work that Trosa has done in a similar light, you know, it’s not just great because we’re helping folks who’ve been struggling with substance abuse get employment as an altruistic measure. It’s like they’re making dope businesses. They’re in a band, they’re running, you know, learning skills and and improving the city. So that’s what I see as the future potential is just a kind of improvement and expanding that net, and therefore improving the lives of all of our residents.

Toney Thompson  55:10

Thank you for sharing that. Mark-Anthony, same question to you.

Mark-Anthony Middleton  55:14

Sure. So I hope that it’ll become a regular part of the parlance of Durham city life that guaranteed income as part of our fabric, I hope that the number of populations that we’re serving will be expanded, because we’re going to be doing the work of increasing the coffers beyond this initial 500,000, if not from city funding. Part of our job now is to go out and kind of do some fundraising and, and ask corporate citizens to buy into this concept and to pay into this concept. So our coffers to do guaranteed income, my hope will be larger, we’ll have more folk, perhaps children being raised by single parents. immigrant population that does just folk, more folk involved. And my hope also is that the conversation nationally would have caught fire, that that we’ll be set, you know, if not, at least at the legislative level, if there’s not a bill winding its way through a committee. Somebody in Congress is talking about this, and they’re talking about Durham, they’re talking about Stockton, they’re talking about Columbia, South Carolina, look what they’ve done there, we need to pick this up. So I hope five years from now that will be. I don’t know if I’ll be here, hopefully Amber will be still running the City the way she does but but but I look forward to being wherever I am being part of that conversation and hope that it would have taken on that that level of of importance and significance in our in our national life.

Toney Thompson  56:38

Absolutely. Thank you for sharing. Okay, last question that I have that we everyone who comes on the podcast has to answer, if you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as your exit music for this episode? Amber, let’s start with you.

Amber Wade  56:57

I think I would do Brave by Sara Bareilles, reminds me local governments can be brave and bold and try new things. 

Toney Thompson  57:08


Mark-Anthony Middleton  57:09

I’m gonna have to go with The Elements, man. We’ve come together on this special day. I heard that message loud and clear. That’s the way the world.

Toney Thompson  57:20

Unfortunately Pierce had to jump jump off the interview, but I’m sure we can get his response later. 

Mark-Anthony Middleton  57:25

Probably one of his songs. 

Amber Wade  57:26

He’s probably got some great ones. 

Mark-Anthony Middleton  57:28

Yeah. I mean original track. 

Toney Thompson  57:33

Thank you so much for being with me today. That ends our episode for today. I thank you for coming on to talk with me. For our listeners, you can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast, and we’re on all your favorite podcast subscription services. Please subscribe to Gov Love through your favorite podcast service and leave us a review so more people know that Gov Love is the podcast for local government topics. And if you have a story for Gov Love, we want to hear it, send us a message on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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