The City Council approved a pilot program at its meeting on Thursday, May 5, to provide monthly payments of $1,000 to 85 households for an entire year. Once people are accepted into the guaranteed income pilot, they will not have to “prove” that they still need the assistance, as many government-run financial aid programs normally require.
The pilot program will cost $1.18 million, of which $152,000 will be paid to Together, a California-based nonprofit that the city is partnering with to run the program. The remaining funds, which were approved by the Council as an addendum to the fiscal 2022 budget, will go to families who qualify. UpTogether has experience administering direct cash assistance in Austin as part of the COVID-19 Relief efforts in 2020 (when the group was known as the Family Independence Initiative), and is also working with the Foundation of Saint David in a similar guaranteed income pilot program.
These programs are governed by two basic principles: that poor people know best where to spend the money they have, and that their needs may change faster than traditional public assistance programs (rent support, food benefits, subsidies, etc.) for childcare, etc.). up. Austin Stock Director brion oaksin a memorandum to the Council, referenced the city’s investigation Innovation Office which found that such rapidly evolving “financial shocks” are “the most prominent drivers of crowding out” as they combine with other financial pressures, such as overdue bills that rack up late fees or payday loans that rack up interest , which may result in eviction. . Unrestricted income support, Oaks wrote, should not be viewed as a “gift” of public funds, but as a “critical investment in families and individuals” that can improve their health and fortunes to the point where they need less help from the government. long-term public sector
Mayor Steve Adler he alluded to these ideas in his comments before the Council approved the program. “I just think [it’s] so misleading and so wrong” that people characterize government assistance programs as “gifts,” the mayor said. “The concept being tested is: What if you really trust people to get a dollar and spend it in the most meaningful way for their family?” Adler also linked the guaranteed income program, which he hopes staff will be able to expand and maintain for years to come after the pilot program, with the city’s broader effort to reduce homelessness.
Acting Mayor alison alter voted against the show, explaining in comments before the vote that it was a complex decision for her. Alter recognized that the program would help families in need, but given the vast amount of need in the city and the limited financial resources the city can deploy to meet that need, he felt guaranteed income was not the right type of program for the city. town. undertake. “When I look at all the levers I have to help families meet basic needs,” Alter said. “I have not been able to conclude that this investment, at this time, is the best way for me to respond to those needs.” Council members leslie pool Y mackenzie kellyThose with similar reservations about guaranteed income (and, in Kelly’s case, about the proper role of government), did not attend the May 5 meeting.
Worth reading: “We recognize that it is becoming much more expensive to live in Austin, and more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. But we question whether providing unrestricted cash payments to residents is the appropriate role for the government of the city”. https://t.co/BVh7dSi7bK
— Mackenzie Kelly (@mkelly007) May 4, 2022
Guaranteed income programs have lofty goals, and while similar programs exist in some 50 US cities, they remain largely unproven as a means of reducing poverty. The Council’s vote to create the Austin pilot was postponed from its April 21 meeting in part because of questions about how to assess its effectiveness; The staff intends to work with the Urban Institute, a DC-based think tank, to assess the success of the program. That analysis will include interviews with participants and stakeholders to identify possible improvements for future iterations of the program, as well as a “quantitative quasi-experimental analysis” comparing results for program participants and non-participants. Some suggested metrics include the ability to cover a $400 emergency expense; ability to access preventive health care and maintain a healthy diet; and “ability to live fully,” which could be measured by how often guardians prepare meals for children or have time for hobbies and interests.
The CMs also expressed concern that Texas law does not allow for a guaranteed revenue program that is not targeted to address the specific public policy challenges facing the city. Staff intends to focus on qualifying indicators to select participants, such as households facing eviction, utility customers who consistently miss payments, or individuals transitioning from homelessness to housing. support.
Right now, all the data we have on UpTogether’s success comes from the nonprofit itself. At a press conference earlier in the day, ivanna neri, director of UpTogether’s Southwest partnership, said preliminary results from the St. David’s Foundation pilot program showed that the 125 program participants used the money to pay for basic necessities such as housing, food, clothing and gas. An independent analysis of a publicly funded pilot program could go a long way toward testing the underlying theory of guaranteed income: that empowering people through unrestricted financial assistance can be an efficient and more dignified way to reduce poverty. .