Audible is taking on food insecurity by launching a pilot program to provide 400 Newark residents with a $75 weekly stipend that can be used at restaurants, grocers, and pharmacies downtown.
Audible, the Amazon subsidiary that is the world’s largest producer of audiobooks, this week announced the six-month pilot program in which it will distribute debit cards to needy Newark residents. The cards, called Audible Bucks, can be used at participating stores downtown, many of which have struggled during the pandemic —pizzerias, restaurants, cafes, pharmacies, and grocers.
The program aims to help students, a demographic that is often overlooked in efforts to combat poverty. Audible has teamed up with Rutgers University-Newark, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the YMCA of Newark and FOCUS, the community center that serves Latinos to select applicants.
Aisha Glover, the vice president for Urban Innovation at Audible, said the program is based on the City of Newark’s guaranteed income pilot, known as the Newark Movement for Economic Policy. The program puts money into the hands of people who need it and will spend it locally, she said.
“Many residents and businesses are still recovering economically from the pandemic and Audible is proud to fund this impactful program to help their journey,” she said.
Universities and community groups selected Newark residents who were 18 or older and demonstrated food insecurity or financial need.
The debit cards are being developed by MoCaFi, a Black-owned financial services company that is currently at work on a similar pilot program in the City of Paterson.
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka applauded the initiative, which will help businesses downtown. “As we continue to recover from the ongoing effects of the pandemic, innovative initiatives like the Audible Bucks stipend, will empower students and residents and will help improve our city’s economic vitality,” he said.
According to its website, the company didn’t just move to Newark to produce audiobooks and podcasts, but “to accelerate Newark’s comeback” and is committed to advancing “equality, racial justice and economic empowerment.”
To that end, dAudible started Newark Working Kitchens, which has delivered more than 1 million meals to Newark residents during the pandemic. About 30 Newark restaurants are involved in the effort.
Last month, Audible announced it had selected the first 15 artists for the first phase of the Newark Artist Collaboration. Artists will create murals and public arts installations around the city.
“Audible is once again offering innovative solutions for Newark families struggling to achieve financial stability,” said Maritza Arauz, executive director of FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development. “The Audible Bucks project will make a real difference for residents living paycheck to paycheck, who are especially vulnerable to the dual health and economic crises brought on by Covid-19.”
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