Audible’s latest community aid effort: $75 weekly stipend that will help students — and area businesses

Audible Bucks, 6-month pilot program, will provide money to up to 400 students and residents

Audible, in its latest effort to give back to the Newark-area community, announced this week that it is starting a pilot program that will give up to 400 area college students and residents $75 a week to be used for purchases at restaurants, pharmacies and grocery stores in the Newark area.

The program, Audible Bucks, has two purposes: It provides discretionary income to help offset the cost of food and living — and it drives spending at local businesses to support Newark’s economic recovery and overall financial wellness.

The weekly stipend will be loaded onto debit cards, which can be used at more than 50 Newark small businesses.

The six-month program will start this fall in collaboration with Rutgers University-Newark, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Focus Hispanic Center for Community Development Inc., Newark YMCA and Mobility Capital Finance.

The program’s goals are similar to Audible’s uber-impressive Newark Working Kitchens program, which has provided more than a million meals to residents in need while supporting area businesses that were hurting because of the pandemic.

The Audible Bucks stipend is funded by Audible and will be managed by Audible’s Global Center for Urban Development, established in 2020 to expand Audible’s community and economic initiatives, with a mission to launch new and measurable models focused on advancing equity, racial justice and economic empowerment.

MoCaFi, a Black-owned fintech company serving Americans who exist in the economic margins, is providing the card technology and customer service.

Aisha Glover, vice president, urban innovation at Audible, said the program can have great impact.

“Inspired by the city of Newark’s guaranteed income pilot program, Newark Movement for Economic Equity, Audible Bucks will support local college students and residents in need with supplementary disposable income, while driving foot traffic to Newark’s small businesses,” she said. “Many residents and businesses are still recovering economically from the pandemic, and Audible is proud to fund this impactful program to help accelerate their journey.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was thrilled by the concept.

“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. “I’m grateful for Audible and all of our community partners for their continued commitment to the people of Newark.”

MoCaFi founder and CEO Wole Coaxum said he was happy to play a role in a program that has the potential to scale.

“MoCaFi is honored to join Audible and Newark-area partners to support this program, which fosters the type of ecosystem that we hope will be replicated in other areas,” he said. “With this model, students will benefit from a quality financial services tool that, in turn, will promote and sustain the growth of local businesses.”

NJIT President Joel Bloom said the potential of the program’s reach is impressive.

“We are incredibly appreciative of Audible for supporting this pilot, which will benefit NJIT students and others in the city of Newark,” he said. “As we all know, the group most adversely affected by the COVID pandemic is those from low-income households. Providing this support to our students will be critical for many who are struggling financially.”