Council recap: Nothing beats cash: City launches guaranteed income pilot program
The city council at its Thursday, May 5 meeting approved a pilot program to provide $1,000 in monthly payments to 85 households for a full year. Once people are included in the guaranteed income Pilot, you do not have to “prove” that you still need the assistance, as many government grant programs typically require.
The pilot will cost $1.18 million, of which $152,000 will be paid UpTogether, a California-based nonprofit with which the city is partnering to administer the program. The remaining funds, approved by Council as an addendum to the FY2022 budget, will go to eligible families. UpTogether has experience managing direct cash assistance in Austin as part of the city COVID-19 Relief Efforts in 2020 (when the group was still known as The Family Independence Initiative) and also works with the St David’s Foundation on a similar guaranteed income pilot program.
These programs are guided by two core principles: that poor people know best what to spend their money on, and that their needs can change faster than traditional government support programs (rent subsidies, meal subsidies, childcare subsidies, etc.) can keep high. Austin Chief Equity Officer Brion oaksreferred to investigations by the city in a memo to the council innovation office who have noted that such quick-breaking “financial shocks” are “the most prominent causes of displacement” as they mix with other financial stresses — such as overdue bills causing arrears fees or payday loans with interest — that can lead to eviction. Unrestricted income support, Oaks wrote, should not be viewed as a “gift” of public money, but as a “crucial investment in families and individuals” that can improve their health and wealth to the point where they require less help from the public sector in the long-term.
mayor Steve Adler alluded to these ideas in his comments before the Council approved the program. “I just think [it’s] so misleading and so wrong” for people to characterize government aid programs as “giveaways,” the mayor said. “The concept tested is, What if you actually trust people to get a dollar and spend it in whatever way makes most sense for their family?” Adler also linked the Guaranteed Income Program, which he hopes will help the Employees will be able to expand and sustain it for years to come after the pilot, with the city’s broader efforts to reduce homelessness.
Mayor Per Tem Alison age voted against the program and stated in a comment before the vote that it was a complex decision for them. Alter acknowledged that the program would help families in need, but given the tremendous need in the city and the limited financial resources the city can dedicate to meet those needs, she felt a guaranteed income wasn’t the right thing kind of program for the city to take over. “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 is the best way for me to address those needs at this time.” Leslie pool and Mackenzie Kellyboth of whom have similar reservations about guaranteed income (and, in Kelly’s case, the proper role of government), did not attend the May 5 meeting.
Worth reading: “We recognize that life in Austin is getting much more expensive and more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. https://t.co/BVh7dSi7bK
— Mackenzie Kelly (@mkelly007) May 4, 2022
Guaranteed income programs have lofty goals, and while similar programs exist in about 50 American cities, they remain largely untested as a means of reducing poverty. The council’s vote on creating Austin’s pilot project was postponed from its April 21 meeting, in part because of questions about evaluating its effectiveness. Employee intends to work with Municipal Institute, a DC-based think tank, to assess the program’s success. This analysis includes interviews with participants and stakeholders to identify potential improvements for future iterations of the program, and a “quasi-experimental quantitative 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 eat healthily; and “Ability to live a full life,” which could be measured by how often guardians cook meals for children or have time for hobbies and interests.
Concerns have also been raised by CMs that Texas law may not permit a guaranteed income program that is not designed to address specific public policy challenges the city is facing. Staff intend to focus on qualifying indicators to select participants, such as: B. Households facing eviction, utility customers who consistently miss payments, or people transitioning from homelessness to supportive housing.
For now, all the data we have on UpTogether’s success comes from the nonprofit itself. At a press conference earlier in the day Ivana Neri, Southwest Partnership Director of UpTogether, said preliminary results from the St. David’s Foundation pilot showed that all 125 participants in the program used the money to pay for basic necessities such as shelter, food, clothing and gas. An independent analysis of a publicly funded pilot project could go a long way towards testing the underlying theory of guaranteed income – that empowering people through unlimited financial support can be both an efficient and a more dignified way to reduce poverty.