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New Rochester moms in need could get $1,000 a month in cash — no strings attached

A woman, pushing a baby stroller, walks away from the camera and further into a city park
Александр Бочкал
The Bridge Project gives monthly cash payments to new mothers for 36 months. It started in Manhattan, and is now expanding to Rochester.

It has been about a year and a half since the Rochester City Council approved a guaranteed basic income pilot program that would pay $500 a month to some 350 needy families.

The funding is in place, and the program has been a talking point of Mayor Malik Evans, who touted it on the campaign trail and, again, in his State of the City address this year.

Yet, not a single check has been cut, and there is no official launch date.

Now, a nonprofit organization behind a similar cash payment program in New York City is expanding to Rochester independently of the city’s plans.

The program, The Bridge Project by the Monarch Foundation, offers no-strings-attached $1,000 a month to new mothers for 18 months, and $500 a month for another 18 months after that. Program officials said 100 mothers would be served in the initial phase and anticipated a nine-day application window opening in July, with payments going out by September.

News that the program was expanding to Rochester was first reported Thursday by Bloomberg News.

Megha Agarwal, co-founder and executive director of The Bridge Project, said the organization has been in talks with the mayor’s office since late 2022 to ensure that the two projects aren’t at odds with one another. Agarwal said the project is likely to touch on similar demographics to the city’s pilot but has different targets.

“We’ve known they have been planning this guaranteed basic income pilot, and of course we’ve been in this world for a couple years now, so it was important for us to be able to help support them with, say, program design or program implementation,” Agarwal said. “So, we’ve been staying close on that, and also making sure the two programs aren’t in conflict.”

Agarwal said the goal of the Bridge Project is to push the state and federal governments to enact a guaranteed basic income program for new mothers, calling cash “an unconditional solution to child poverty.”

The organization is supporting a bill introduced by state Sen. Jessica Ramos of Queens dubbed the Mothers and Infants Lasting Change (MILC) Allowance. That bill would provide an unspecified amount of cash to some women for the last three months of their pregnancy and first 18 months of their child’s life. The bill has a companion in the Assembly.

“What we’ve quickly realized is that for the ideal world for us is in three years from now, five years from now, in how ever many years it takes from now, the goal is for the Bridge Project to not exist,” Agarwal said.

Carlet Cleare, a spokesperson for the city of Rochester, said the city was aware of The Bridge Project and that the program would not conflict with the city’s plans.

“The Monarch Foundation is focused on first-time mothers, which doesn’t interfere with what the city is trying to do,” Cleare said. “The city plan has different demographics, and is more general in who we’re trying to target.”

Cleare declined to comment when the application period for the city’s guaranteed basic income program would launch.

The city’s program was first proposed by Mayor Lovely Warren and passed the City Council with unanimous support in December 2021. It is to be financed with $2.2 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and overseen by The Black Community Focus Fund, an organization led by the Rev. Myra Brown, who received a $50,000 contract for the work.

The program would be rolled out in two phases, each serving roughly 175 families.

But there has been little visible progress on the program.

On April 20, a day after his State of the City address, Evans said he was excited about launching the program, but declined to say when exactly that would be.

“This is a very complicated program,” he said, “but an important one, and we know it works.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.
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