City Council approved a pilot program at its May 5 meeting to provide monthly payments of $1,000 to 85 households for an entire year. Once people are accepted into the guaranteed income pilot, they won’t have to “prove” they still need the help, as many government-run financial aid programs normally require.
The pilot project will cost $1.18 million, with $152,000 going to TogetherTogether, a California-based nonprofit that will administer the program. The remaining funds, which were approved by the Board as an addendum to the fiscal year 2022 budget, will go to eligible families. UpTogether has experience administering direct cash assistance in Austin under the COVID-19 relief efforts, and works with the St. David’s Foundation on a similar guaranteed income pilot program.
These programs are guided by two fundamental principles: that the poor know better where to spend the money they have and that their needs can change more quickly than traditional public assistance programs (rent assistance, food allowances, childcare subsidies children, etc.) at the top. Austin Equity Director Brion Oaksin a memorandum to Council, referred to research by the city Innovation Office who found that fast-breaking financial “shocks” are “the most important driver[s] travel” as they add to other financial pressures – such as overdue bills that rack up late fees or interest-bearing payday loans – that can lead to eviction. Unrestricted income support, wrote Oaks, is not a “gift” of public funds, but an “essential investment in families and individuals” that can improve their health and fortunes to the point where they need less help from the sector long-term audience.
Mayor Steve Adler alluded to in his comments before the Board approved the program. “I just think [it’s] so misleading and so fake” that people call government aid programs “gifts,” he said. spend it in the most meaningful way for their family?” Adler also tied the guaranteed income program, which he hopes staff can expand and sustain in the years to come after the pilot, to the broader effort. of the city to reduce homelessness.
Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter voted against the program, explaining in remarks before the vote that it was a complex decision for her. Alter acknowledged that the program would help families in need, but given the magnitude of the need in the city and the limited financial resources the city can deploy to meet that need, she felt it was not the right kind of program for the city. . “When I look at all the levers I have to help families meet basic needs,” Alter said, “I haven’t been able to conclude that this investment, at this time, is the best way for me. to meet those needs.” Council Members Pool Leslie and Mackenzie Kellywho both have similar reservations about guaranteed income (and, in Kelly’s case, the appropriate role of government), did not attend the May 5 meeting.
Guaranteed income programs have ambitious goals, and although similar programs exist in about 50 US cities, they remain largely untested 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 gauge its effectiveness; staff intend to work with Urban Institute, a DC-based think tank, to assess the success of the program. This analysis will include interviews with participants and stakeholders to identify potential improvements for future iterations of the program, as well as a “quasi-experimental quantitative analysis” comparing results for program participants and non-participants. Some suggested measures include the ability to cover an emergency expense of $400; the ability to access preventive health care and maintain a healthy diet; and the “ability to live life to the fullest”, which could be measured by how often caregivers prepare meals for children or have time for hobbies and interests.
CMs also raised concerns that Texas law does not allow for a guaranteed income program that is not intended to address specific public policy issues facing the city. Staff intend to focus on qualifying indicators to select participants, such as households at risk of eviction, utility customers who consistently miss payments, or people transitioning from homelessness to housing. with support services.
Right now, all the data we have about UpTogether’s success comes from the nonprofit itself. At a press conference earlier today, Ivanna Neri, director of UpTogether’s South West Partnership, said preliminary results from the St. David’s Foundation pilot project showed that all 125 program participants used the money to pay for basic necessities like housing, food, clothing and gasoline. Independent analysis of a publicly funded pilot project could go a long way to testing the underlying theory of guaranteed income: empowering people with unlimited financial assistance can be an effective and more dignified way to reduce poverty .