The Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a groundbreaking initiative of the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities, is addressing poverty by listening to the needs of mothers.
Words by Laura Drummond
“There is not one straight line to exit poverty. Cash is just one balm that is necessary when we are trying to solve for an ailment that has existed for years, or in some cases, generations,” Aisha Nyandoro said.
A self-described champion for guaranteed income, Nyandoro has demonstrated what a powerful balm that can be in her work as CEO of Springboard to Opportunities (STO), a nonprofit organization that supports families in affordable housing in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. The organization provides various programs, services, and activities to support residents, but one of the most groundbreaking has been the Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT).
This guaranteed income initiative provides $1,000 no-strings-attached cash in monthly installments for twelve months to qualifying low-income Black mothers living in one of the four subsidized housing communities STO serves. The program began with a cohort of twenty mothers in 2018, and it has now assisted more than three hundred, making it the longest running guaranteed income program in the United States and the only that focuses support solely on Black mothers.
MMT originated after discussions with mothers in the community STO serves. “We went out with one simple question: What will make your life easier? The common denominator in every conversation was something that could be resolved with money,” Nyandoro said. One mother expressed frustration because she couldn’t afford the uniform her daughter needed to participate in a school sport. Another mom struggled to find reliable transportation for work after she couldn’t pay for repairs needed for her car.
Most of the moms in the program work multiple jobs, but their monthly income is around $1,000, which is not enough to cover expenses, much less build savings or pay for kids’ needs, such as clothing, extracurricular activities, and childcare. Many have to rely on government assistance to make ends meet, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing.
Unfortunately, some of that assistance can be impacted by the additional income MMT affords. According to Nyandoro, on average, families have a $300 reduction of benefits, but they have a $700 net gain as part of MMT. With that unrestricted cash, mothers have the agency to choose how best to spend their money to make the largest impact for themselves and their families.
For some moms, that has looked like getting higher paying jobs, attending educational programs to further their careers, and moving out of subsidized housing. Some have been able to decrease their debt, increase their savings, or afford enriching opportunities for their children.
“I’ve achieved the goals I’ve always wanted. Now I can say I have built a better foundation for me and my son,” said one mother who participated in the 2022–2023 cohort.
“I grew up being a teen mom with lack of support. And now we are doing better than ever. I’ve moved out of low-income; I have my own house now. I’m also putting a smile on my family's faces as I get my CNA license and enter the medical field as I always wanted to do.”
In addition to cash assistance, MMT offers other resources, such as access to a community coach, mental health resources, crisis support, financial planning education, assistance with job searches, and 529 children’s savings accounts for minor children. As a whole, these services have made a positive impact on participating mothers’ feelings of empowerment and confidence. “I feel like my mental health is free. I don’t have to worry how many hours I got to work to make enough money to support family. Now I’m able to be a happy mom instead of a miserable one. [MMT] gave me that,” said one mother who participated in an MMT 2022–2023 cohort alumni study.
Since MMT began in 2018, more than one hundred similar programs have sprung up across the United States. “We have successfully moved the needle about how we talk about the role of cash without restrictions in the day-to-day lives of people and how that is truly how you go about alleviating poverty,” Nyandoro said. “What started here in Jackson with twenty Black women pioneers has sparked a movement.”
Nyandoro hopes this movement will effect change on a larger scale. “What we truly need is federal legislation to get to the systemic aspects of what’s needed for long-term change,” she said. To that end, she recently testified at a Work & Welfare Subcommittee Hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, sharing with policymakers how guaranteed income programs can address economic insecurity and poverty. “I am hoping to reengineer imagination,” Nyandoro said. “I am hoping I can open a window for people to begin to say, ‘We actually don’t have to do it this way. We can try something different.’”