Georgia Horton grabbed the hem of her navy dress and awkwardly swung one leg and then the other across the concrete bench at the top of the Kenneth Khan State Recreation Area.
“This is where I take all the reporters,” she said with a sarcastic smile as she sat comfortably at the picnic table. “It’s peaceful, isn’t it?”
I had to laugh.
In the months since I wrote about Horton during the darkest days of the pandemic, she said she met with a parade of reporters who were all eager to hear about her participation in the Compton Pledge.
And she continues to tell her story.
How she grew up in a poor Bakersfield family and was abused as a child. How she spent decades in prison, found religion and became an evangelist. How she moved to Compton after her release and struggled to make ends meet when the economy stalled due to COVID-19.
And how the few hundred dollars she now receives every month – with no strings attached – has brought her to the brink of eviction into a promising career as a motivational speaker with her own nonprofit organization.
With each story, Horton increasingly emphasized her role as a spokesperson for guaranteed income. “An exemplary child” – she likes to joke.
But she knows that this is not only her story. The thing is, in the months she’s been talking about it, several mayors put on a big show by launching government-funded income security programs in their cities.
Los Angeles is just the latest time Mayor Eric Garcetti announced more details on Basic Income Guarantee last week: the Los Angeles Economic Assistance Pilot Program, or BIG: LEAP. About 3,200 low-income families will receive $ 1,000 a month for one year. Applications are accepted.
Also last week, Chicago announced it would begin distributing monthly payments to low-income residents, with Mayor Laurie Lightfoot boasting that her city would have “the largest pilot program in the country.”
Indeed, each successive ad appears to be designed to outperform the last, as cities are clearly competing with each other to be considered giving the most money to most people.
Yes, this is a shameless demonstration of virtue. But it also illustrates how what began in 2019 as a controversial experiment in Stockton led by then Mayor Michael Tubbs has quickly grown into one of the most politically popular and effective tools for managing the economic shocks caused by the pandemic. This is why mayors love to talk about it.
What mayors say less about is how their income security frenzy has spawned a new industry – from nonprofit leaders and consultants who advertise best practices in symposia to organizations that help cities select recipients, launch programs, and collect data.
For example, there is a Guaranteed Income Fund. Led by Nika Sun-Shiong, daughter of Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Sun-Shiong, this charity is behind the donor-sponsored Compton Pledge and has been brought in by Chicago to help manage its program.
There is also an Academic Center for Income Guaranteed Research, which works with Los Angeles and many other cities that have launched income guaranteed programs under the auspices of Mayors of Tubbs.
Horton shakes his head in amazement at how difficult the guaranteed income has become and how distant he has become. While she is grateful for the steady flow of money through the Compton Bail, she worries about what will happen next for those who have come – and will come – to depend on him.
“You all brag about how much you give,” she said, referring to mayors and their speeches. “But what will happen when it’s over?”
The issue of sustainability is a question often raised by critics about income security, although early research has shown that such programs can help Americans get out of poverty for good.
However, some cities are not at risk.
In Los Angeles, for example, those selected for BIG: LEAP will be referred to agencies that provide financial coaching. Other guaranteed income programs, including those in the Bay Area, offer the same. Participation is optional.
Horton admits she has done a lot of her own bitter experience, including figuring out on her own how to start her Georgia Horton Ministries nonprofit.
But once she applied – with money saved from her monthly Compton Pledge – it led to a slew of new appearances, including from Word Network and TD Jakes Ministries. She also wrote a book in which she tells her story of overcoming trauma.
“With this transition, there were many different responsibilities,” she explained. “But that also came with a completely different mindset.”
Horton hopes that Los Angeles’s new class of income security recipients will embrace this new mindset sooner rather than later. Ever an evangelist, she noted the lessons she learned.
First, open a savings account to combat the urge for instant gratification.
“There will never be a good time in your mind to save — with this poverty mindset — because the need will always be there,” Horton said. “If you wait to save unnecessarily, you will never save. So now you have to decide: if I’ve lived without it for so long, why can’t you live without it now? “
Second, keep old friends, but make new ones.
“Invite someone who is thinking about what you want to achieve. Because the following will happen: when you invite someone who thinks at this level, then when you talk to him, you get new ideas. “
And third, don’t forget to take care of yourself, both mental and physical, to avoid impulsive purchases.
“In the midst of this pandemic, to help you make better decisions about your funding, take the inner self-care to change your well-being to a healthier lifestyle,” she said. “If you don’t, you will find something outside to try to feel better.”
This is Horton’s story, and as long as people ask, she will keep telling it.