No Guarantees in Life? Pilot Program Tests Guaranteed Income for Women

By: Mon Valley Initiative Workforce Development Team

Shanae was the first to raise her hand at work for extra hours so she could pay her mounting bills. But as a single mother of two, she had to figure out how to carefully balance those precious extra shifts with the mornings, evenings and weekends she spent caring for her kids. 

Turns out, she couldn’t.

Before long, Shanae was so behind on the bills, her phone was shut off and she couldn’t afford her rent, forcing her family to move into a friend’s one-bedroom apartment. Despite taking on extra shifts and doing all she could to support her family, Shanae found herself in survival mode. She needed help. 

Women like Shanae inspired a new approach to help women struggling in our community. With support from Eden Hall Foundation, The PNC Financial Services Group and private donors, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania created the Guaranteed Income Pilot to help women like Shanae reach financial self-sufficiency.

Since October 2021, 12 women who were newly employed or looking to advance in their careers were selected by United Way partner agencies at Community Kitchen of Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services, Mon Valley Initiative and Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh to participate in the two-year pilot. In the first 18 months of the pilot, each woman will receive $500 monthly payments – a “guaranteed income” – in addition to access to programs and services to improve their mental health and overall well-being. 

Shanae is one of two participants from Mon Valley Initiative receiving support from the Guaranteed Income Pilot. This valuable partnership with United Way allowed MVI to enroll our female clients in the pilot and offer tools to make smart decisions to improve their lives.

United Way’s Guaranteed Income Pilot is different than any other program out there because each woman has the flexibility to use her monthly funds to provide for whatever is her biggest need at the time. It’s a unique opportunity that we’ve already seen make a difference in our participants’ lives. One month, the $500 could be used for bills piling up, the next it could fund childcare while a mother picks up overtime or a chunk of it could finance winter jackets when the temperature drops. The participants have the power to choose and the freedom (with guidance) to build their own financial security.

In just a few months, Shanae is moving toward financial stability as she has set aside almost enough money for first month’s rent and a security deposit for an apartment. Just as importantly, she has learned to budget for the future and reduce stressors in her life. With each check in, we can sense a totally different vibe and happier tone in her voice. She’s on track to achieve her main goal of having safe and secure housing and being the mother she wants to be. We couldn’t be more excited for Shanae’s progress and bright future.

Not even six months into the pilot and participants are already starting to get their footing to build better lives thanks to impactful relationships, resources and support from the Guaranteed Income Pilot. We’re seeing that when empowered with smart tools, people who really want to turn their life around really can. This phenomenal work is just beginning with these 12 women. We hope it will blossom into a program that will improve the lives of dozens more women for years to come.

*The name of the participant has been changed for privacy reasons.