FILE - LaToya Cantrell

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell

(The Center Square) — The City of New Orleans launched a guaranteed income program for teens this week with the help of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income.

The New Orleans Guaranteed Income Program is sending $350 monthly payments to 125 young people between the ages of 16-24 over the next 10 months, with no restrictions on how the money is spent. The program, made possible with a $500,000 grant from Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, is targeted to youth who "are disconnected from work and school," according to Wednesday press release.

"The launch of the New Orleans Guaranteed Income Program is an exciting moment for our city," said Mayor LaToya Cantrell. "Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the number of disconnected youth significantly increase. We launched this program as an opportunity to get much-needed, unrestricted cash in people’s pockets at a time where we know our people need it the most.

"This program builds on my administration’s efforts to invest directly in the lives of our youth and my priority to improve quality of life for all residents."

The program is administered through the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families (OYF) as a way to "increase participants’ financial stability, connect them back to supportive services such as education or jobs programs, and decrease stress and other risk factors associated with economic insecurity."

OYF worked with community-based groups to refer eligible participants, including Collegiate Academies, ALAS, Youth Empowerment Project, New Orleans Youth Alliance, Educators for Quality Alternatives, Healthy Start, New Orleans Public Schools and Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. United Way of Southeast Louisiana will also provide benefits counseling to all participants, according to the city.

Laurin Lombard, a 22-year-old New Orleans mother, said she’s "so glad" to participate in the program "because it gives me an opportunity to take care of my family."

"I’ve been able to use the money to pay for transportation to bring my baby to the doctor’s office, run errands, and buy groceries for my family," she said. "In the future, I plan to save some of the money so I can go back to school to get my degree in cosmetology and business and pay for childcare for my 10-month-old baby."

The New Orleans program follows a similar no-strings-attached guaranteed income program for low-income residents in Shreveport that launched earlier this year. The Shreveport Guaranteed Income pilot program is sending monthly payments of $660 to 110 households for a year.

Proponents of guaranteed income programs contend the free money improves recipients’ financial stability, health and overall well-being, while opponents suggest the cash infusions discourage work and the sense of meaning it provides. The New Orleans program is one of dozens across the country sponsored by Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, which was founded by former Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs and the Economic Security Project.

The City of New Orleans is partnering with the Center for Guaranteed Income Research through the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University to evaluate the efficacy of its pilot program. The research is expected to include surveys and interviews with participants throughout the program.

"Mayors for a Guaranteed Income is incredibly excited the City of New Orleans is launching its guaranteed income program," said Mayors for a Guaranteed Income Executive Director Sukhi Samra. "As one of the first MGI pilot cities to focus its cash payments on young people, New Orleans is helping to expand guaranteed income opportunities for young people across the country. We look forward to working in partnership with the City of New Orleans and their community over the next 10 months."