Guaranteed Income Programs – Could This Work in Austin, TX?

AUSTIN (KXAN) — This Thursday, the Austin City Council will vote to decide whether to officially launch a Guaranteed Income Pilot, a year-long initiative that would give $1,000 a month to 85 families or individuals facing financial hardship. extremes.

During a media roundtable on Monday morning, Austin Mayor Steve Adler viewed the initiative as a possible solution to affordability issues in the city, as well as a preventative measure to prevent more people to live on the streets.

“The Austin pilot project is going to focus on families in insecure housing, likely families who are at risk or about to be evicted, perhaps,” Adler said. “Because we know it’s so expensive for our community to care for people once they’ve lost their homes.”

As part of the conversation, Adler highlighted the City Summit to Address Homelessness, a more than $500 million initiative to provide housing for 3,000 homeless people over a three-year period. . It’s an effort that Adler said he supports, while noting that it’s an example of the extreme homelessness costs that arise once people lose their homes.

“If we can divert people from this, if we can keep people in their homes and give them the opportunity to maybe get a little more training from the workforce or really get their families together, I think it will be a good deal for taxpayers. ,” he said.

Austin’s fiscal year 2021-22 budget outlined funding for the program, designated under Reimagining Public Safety Dollars and as part of the Equity Office’s operating budget. Funding for the program is capped at $1.18 million per municipal document.

More than 50 cities across the country have adopted some version of the guaranteed income program, Adler said. If approved Thursday, Austin will partner with community platform UpTogether to set specific criteria for eligible Austinites.

Stockton, Calif., served as a model for many cities interested in developing a pilot program, with Adler citing it as the area that piqued his own interest in the concept. Launched in February 2019, the two-year program gave 125 residents $500 a month as “unconditional, no strings attached, and no work requirements,” according to city documents.

Eligible residents had to meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Live in Stockton
  • Live in a neighborhood where the median income level was at or below $46,033

Data from the first year of the program revealed that residents used guaranteed income funds in the following ways, by month:

On average, Stockton residents participating in the program primarily used the extra funds to pay for food, followed by sales and merchandise bills — payments at major stores like Walmart and Target — and utilities.

Data from the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration revealed that program participants were “in a more stable financial situation” one year after starting the guaranteed income program. Specifically, 52% of participants said they could afford an unexpected expense in cash if an emergency arose one year into the program; comparatively, only 25% of recipients reported being able to do so at the start of the program.

For many families living paycheck to paycheck, they are one emergency away from the financial crisis, said Austin City Councilwoman Vanessa Fuentes. She noted the impact that similar programs like the Child Tax Credit have had on families who need extra resources to support themselves and access the essentials they need.

She added that she hopes this guaranteed income program will provide more agency for working-class families and individuals to increase their incomes and prevent disaster from occurring in the event of an emergency.

“For many families, they are just one emergency away from falling into homelessness,” she said. “So this program is about helping people stay up and stay home.”