ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Guaranteed Income (IGI), the privately-funded research pilot program introduced in December 2021, is set to begin monthly payments for the 110 enrolled caregivers in June by way of prepaid debit cards.

With between 400 and 600 applicants, participants were selected in early January before administrative delays caused the project to take longer than anticipated to launch.

As introduced, eligibility for the program defined caregivers as “people who spend significant unpaid time caring for children (including parents) or caring for an aging or disabled adult either in or out of their home” and have an income at 80% of the City of Ithaca’s median income or below. Information on Ithaca’s median income ranges can be found here.

Following enrollment and onboarding, the $450 monthly payment is fully unconditional, though participants are able to opt-in or out of certain research metrics and activities. The program currently lasts for just one year. The additional activities will include extra compensation as well, and a control group of research participants will participate in the research components while not receiving the cash transfers.

“It’s very different than traditional programs,” said Liddy Bargar, director of housing initiatives at the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County. “It’s a research pilot, and there’s no programmatic requirements from people.”

Once those in the treatment group are onboarded, they will receive their refillable debit card and they’ll be good to go — they will be notified of additional research activities, which they may or may not participate in, but HSC won’t be in communication any more regarding IGI.

“People are welcome to utilize our services, but it’s not a requirement of participation to talk to anyone about anything. Any ongoing communication comes from the research fellows,” Bargar said.

Bargar said she’s excited to see the impact of the pilot on housing stability and how guaranteed income impacts families or individuals within the City of Ithaca.

Some of the research criteria includes questions regarding neighborhood changes as a result of gentrification and wellness questions related to housing, but the main focus of the questions are on participants’ feelings about their housing: if they feel safe, if it’s clean, if they are comfortable in their neighborhood, whether or not they feel like a part of the community and if they’re able to access Ithaca’s resources.

Another interesting aspect of the pilot is that enrollment eligibility included that applicants are residents in the City of Ithaca — after they’re enrolled, though, they could hypothetically move anywhere they wanted and still benefit from the IGI program.

“I’m just curious to see how a little extra money every month impacts the decisions people make about their housing,” Bargar said.

The payments will be tracked under general categories of food, recreation, utilities and others, but this is also something participants can opt out of if they wish.

Bargar said that in other communities, it’s usually a very small percentage of people who choose to opt out completely, but there is a higher percentage of people who choose not to participate in the additional research activities.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...