The city council at its May 5 meeting approved a pilot program to provide monthly payments of $1,000 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 financial assistance programs typically require.
The pilot will cost $1.18 million, of which $152,000 will be paid UpTogether, a California non-profit organization that will 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 and 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 public assistance 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 noted that fast-breaking financial “shocks” are “the most prominent driver.”[s] of eviction” as they mix with other financial burdens—like overdue bills that drive up late fees or payday loans that accrue interest—that can lead to evictions. Unrestricted income support, Oaks wrote, is not a “gift” of public money but a “vital investment in families and individuals” that can improve their health and wealth to the point where they require less long-term help from the public sector.
mayor Steve Adler alluded to this in his comments before the Council approved the programme. “I just think [it’s] so misleading and so wrong” for people to characterize government aid programs as “giveaways,” he said?” Adler also linked the guaranteed income program, which he hopes employees can expand and sustain in the 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 pre-vote remark 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 it wasn’t 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 don’t come to the conclusion that this investment is the best path for me at this point in time this needs to respond.” Council members Leslie pool and Mackenzie Kellywho both have similar reservations about guaranteed income (and, in Kelly’s case, the proper role of government), did not attend the May 5 meeting.
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 the Austin Pilot was postponed from its April 21 meeting, in part because of questions about assessing 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.
CMs also raised concerns that Texas law may not allow for 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 toward testing the underlying theory of guaranteed income: that empowering people through unlimited financial support can be an efficient and more dignified way to reduce poverty.