Growing Resilience Tacoma Grit Guaranteed Income Demonstration

TACOMA, Wash. - Tacoma's guaranteed income program ‘GRIT’ could be on track to help another round of participants over the next two years.

GRIT stands for Growing Resilience in Tacoma. So far, it's helped more than 100 people in the community since it began in late 2021 and early 2022.

FOX 13 talked to Geno, one of those early recipients. He gave a personal look inside the program. He didn't want his last name used for privacy reasons.

Geno said when he was accepted to the program, he was in a tough spot financially after his son started having medical issues. He says the money was enough to keep the family afloat until he could get a raise at work and get back on stable financial footing on his own.

"I was scared that my kid was going to die," said Geno. "There's no other way for me to say it than that. We were battling with insurance. We're battling with pre-authorizations."

Geno says two years ago, his financial situation spiraled after one of his sons was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He says he struggled to keep pace with payments for his life-saving medication.

"My insulin was coming out of pocket. I wasn't making enough at the time to make sure that I could get from the 25th day of the month to the 30th day of the month without bankrupting myself," said Geno.

The single father of three was working, but the bills were piling up, and he was behind on rent. He applied for the basic income pilot program, Growing Resilience in Tacaoma, or GRIT, and was accepted.

"I don't even want to know where I'd be if I hadn't got that one break," said Geno.

For 13 months, Geno got $500 a month to use however he wished. For the first time, he says he was able to breathe.

"It's scary to stop and think about how close we are to being homeless," said Geno. "I was at the point where needing five more insulin vials would mean, it would mean, like, if my credit cards were maxed. I was already two months behind on rent. Like maybe a couple more vials, and I wouldn't have anything. I don't know. I mean, it felt like we were that close."

The director of GRIT says in early 2020, the City of Tacoma and the United Way of Pierce County teamed up to implement the joint venture. Like Geno, all 110 participants had to meet eligibility requirements, which included being employed under the "ALICE" standard.

"The ALICE standard is an acronym for Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed. So those are folks that are typically 100% to 200% of the federal poverty level," said Abigail Lawson, GRIT's director.

Lawson said general funding from the federal government supported administrative costs, and most of the rest of the funding came from private donations.

"Throughout the year of 2022, beginning December 2021, 110 Tacomans were randomly selected to receive $500 a month each month throughout that 13-month duration," said Lawson. "It meets the participants exactly where they're at any given moment."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: How Tacoma's guaranteed income experiment fared 1 year later

"$500 to a family that is working but can't do those extra things can make a difference," said Dona Ponepinto, United Way Pierce County President and CEO.

"We focused on a group of people that we thought $500 would actually really make a difference. And it did," said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards.

Geno says the program allowed him to focus on his job and training, which led to promotions. When the program ended, he said he was financially ready.

"It didn't solve all my problems, but it did put me on a good trajectory so that I could solve my problems on my own," said Geno. "I never felt like the program was supposed to just get this amount of money, and it fixes your problems. I thought it was more of a would help you get to B a little bit quicker. It'll help you get from A to B a little bit smoother, but you still have to put in the work."

Lawson says they just received a budget allocation to continue the program. 

"We're actually really excited to announce though that we just got a budget allocation from the State of Washington to continue into the next couple of years," said Lawson. 

Lawson says they will be reviewing program requirements. Next summer, the University of Pennsylvania is expected to release a report explaining how effective the program in Tacoma has been.  

"We'll be able to release a finalized report with the University of Pennsylvania in June of 2024. That will do a really deep dive into the efficacy and the inner workings of our program," said Lawson. "In the meantime, though, we are happy to announce that we received an investment from the State of Washington, and we'll be able to onboard a new cohort of participants and run that through the next handful of years."