ST. PAUL, Minn. — You can hear the music, and you can see the joy as Vanessa Gamble and her son, Obediah, sing and laugh.
You don’t see concern. You don’t feel the burden of uncertainty, but months earlier, you would have.
"It was like we just fell down in the sand and we’re trying to make our way out,” Gamble said.
Gamble and her husband, Jeremiah, run a St. Paul theater company called Bucket Brigade. They act and sing. They run camps and produce shows.
The COVID-19 pandemic took all of it … and all of their income.
"We were thousands of dollars under a month," Gamble said.
She applied for relief with a group called Springboard for the Arts. They put her in a program for guaranteed income. Every month, Gamble and 24 other artists in need receive checks for $500.
“Artists tend to be gig workers," said Carolina Taiwo, who runs the program at Springboard. "They cobble together their incomes. They don’t have as much of a safety net, which we saw during the pandemic."
The concept of guaranteed income has picked up steam during the pandemic. This program isn’t even the only one in St. Paul. And with each program comes more data on whether they work.
“We see people staying in school longer," said Dr. Stacia West, who runs the Center for Guaranteed Income Research in Philadelphia. "We see decreases in hospitalization. We see decreases in substance use.”
Guaranteed income is a contentious political topic. It gets to the question of when, or if, someone should receive money for nothing. That’s why recent programs have focused on specific groups.
A San Diego pilot targets areas hard-hit by COVID and child poverty. The Richmond Resilience Initiative helps extremely low-income families with kids that don’t qualify for other benefits.
And this past May, President Biden announced a child tax credit of thousands of dollars per family. It’s a check or deposit for parents from the government every month.
“In my mind, that’s our national sort of experiment of how this impacts moms," said Dr. West. “From what we've seen from the data that have come out already is that folks are reinvesting that money back into their communities. It's being spent locally. People are able to afford childcare and get back to work.”
For Gamble, "back to work” looks different than it did two years back. It looks like voice lessons and small gigs – as many as she can fit until the arts in St. Paul return in full.
“To be honest, the arts are the first to get kicked to the wayside," said Gamble. "Ask any school district. Ask any parent of a public school where it’s like, ‘What’s the first thing to go?’ The arts! This is saying, ‘What if we put the arts first?’”
Her income as a coach, plus $500 for 18 months, doesn’t come close to matching what they once made.
It does mean you can hear that music and see that joy and understand its foundation.
“I have people in my life that are on very extreme right sides and very extreme left side," Gamble said. "So, I hear all the arguments and people like, ‘Is that welfare? Isn’t that going to cause people to not as hard and stuff like that?’ All I can say is, for us, it makes me work harder because I’m like, ‘Wow, someone believes in me. Someone believes in us.’”