Kimanga Yanga, 32, and her son Dorcy Yanga, 3, at their apartment in Portland. The Quality Housing Coalition recently launched a pilot program giving single mothers, who formerly experienced homelessness, $1,000 per month to counter low wages, the cost of child care, etc., and help families get out of poverty. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As a single mother working late nights at a food distribution warehouse, Kimanga Yanga has struggled to pay her bills.

So she was excited when she was chosen for a new program providing 20 single mothers like her with $1,000 cash payments each month for a year to boost their financial security.

“God is good,” Yanga remembers thinking when staff from the Quality Housing Coalition’s Project HOME Trust called.

The trust is a new pilot program offering no-strings-attached assistance to low-income mothers who have experienced homelessness or housing insecurity and face challenges finding enough work while juggling the costs of childcare.

Organizers of the program believe it’s the first of its kind in Maine, though similar efforts have been launched around the country, like Rise Up Cambridge in Massachusetts, which is providing low-income households with $500 per month for 18 months.

“The need is so great,” said Victoria Morales, executive director of the nonprofit Quality Housing Coalition. “This is for folks who no longer qualify or are not receiving other benefits. … There are all kinds of reasons why it may be hard to get full-time, meaningful employment, and this is here to lift them up so they can move towards financial security.”



The trust came out of the existing Project HOME program that matches tenants – about 70% are asylum seekers or refugees – with landlords and provides a financial guarantee for rent.

Morales said staff were looking at what other states were doing to address financial insecurity and the challenges facing low-income mothers, who make up many of their clients.

They came across the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a direct cash assistance program in Jackson, Mississippi.

“When we brought our moms together, we determined this was the best fit for our moms,” Morales said.

“One thing we know is housing is not enough. We’re able to get folks into rental housing and remove those barriers, but they’re still stuck in housing insecurity because they don’t have the income to grow and have future aspirations.”


The Quality Housing Coalition raised nearly $500,000 in donations, including $57,165 in Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Portland, with the help of the Maine Philanthropy Center. The money will be used to run the trust with two groups of women over the next two years.

The 20 mothers are all part of Project HOME and were chosen by a lottery system, Morales said. Almost all of them are asylum seekers or refugees and all reported that they did not have the resources to cover a $400 emergency expense.

Unlike many other benefit programs to help pay for food or housing, the trust is unique in that it comes without any stipulations on how the money should be spent.

Peace Mutesi, coordinator of Project HOME Trust, said that’s based on the belief that families’ needs change month-to-month.

“Today one might need to pay for day care,” Mutesi said. “The next month they might need that money for rent. We believe they know best what to use the money for and we have seen this throughout our conversations with the moms in Project HOME – their needs keep changing every month.”



Nationally, basic and guaranteed income programs have been found to have many benefits related to financial and economic security, though there are also challenges, particularly around funding, said Josie Phillips, a policy fellow at the nonpartisan Maine Center for Economic Policy.

A basic income program typically seeks to meet the basic costs of living whereas a guaranteed income program may provide less.

Morales said Project HOME Trust is calling their effort “direct cash assistance,” because it’s for a finite amount of time and not ongoing in the way income would normally be considered.

Kimanga Yanga, 32, and her son Dorcy Yanga, 3, at their apartment in Portland on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Maine Center for Economic Policy is studying how various basic and guaranteed income programs have worked; how similar programs have benefited Maine, like the 2021 expansion of the federal child tax credit; and what a statewide basic income program could look like in Maine, how much that would cost and how it could be paid for, Phillips said.

That study is expected to be completed by early October.

In general, Phillips said these types of no-strings-attached payment programs have been found to be successful.


They decrease poverty, increase people’s ability to meet basic needs for food and housing, reduce crime and help people find better-paying jobs. They also have positive educational and mental well-being impacts, she said.

But the cost of running such programs can be a challenge, which is one reason they’re often targeted toward small groups like low-income single mothers. And Phillips said some people may question whether the programs provide a disincentive to work or if the money will be wasted on nonessentials like tobacco and alcohol.

She said research shows that isn’t usually the case. “(The money) is overwhelmingly spent on necessities – food and groceries, transportation, utilities, things like that,” she said.

Morales also acknowledged that funding is a challenge. While the trust is being run on donations now, she said it hopes to attract more sustainable funding in the future.

“Right now we need to do this to demonstrate it can work and that it is actually a better use of taxpayer dollars to invest in people in this unrestricted way,” she said. “We believe we will show that once they get on this path, they likely won’t come back to having to request additional assistance in the future.”



Yanga, 32, is an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She lives in a studio apartment in Portland with her 3-year-old son, Dorcy, and works from 2-11 p.m. four days per week at a food distribution warehouse, bringing home about $540 per week.

The income means Yanga doesn’t qualify for General Assistance, a state program that helps people who can’t pay for necessities like housing, food and medical care.

Before getting the extra support from Project HOME Trust, she worried about paying bills and her rent of $1,230.

She said the cash she received in June and July went to rent and buying food. “The extra money has really helped,” said Yanga, who speaks French and was interviewed with the help of a translator.

Teresa Ruth Antonio, another Portland mother who is part of the program, has used the money to buy food and clothes for her 6-year-old son. “So far, this has helped immensely and I’ve benefited in an extremely positive way,” said Antonio, an asylum seeker from Angola who also was interviewed through a translator.

Project HOME Trust is studying the impacts of the program and will be administering quarterly surveys to the mothers as well as a control group of 20 mothers who aren’t receiving the funds.

An outside group, Stepwise Data Research, will evaluate the program’s first year, with findings expected in the fall of 2024. If it’s successful, the Quality Housing Coalition hopes it could be expanded beyond the two-year pilot and used as a model elsewhere.

Mutesi said she’s already seen benefits, not just for individual mothers who have been able to secure childcare or help with rent, but in a sense of community that has been created among the mothers.

“They’ve opened up a lot about making friends,” she said. “We have moms that live in Lewiston, in Auburn. … I’ve seen them communicate more. There’s a sense of community that has already been built within one month. I’m happy to see it grow and am looking forward to what it will look like one year down the road.”

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