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City eyes September start for guaranteed income program

Thursday, August 4, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s taxpayer-funded guaranteed income program is expected to begin sending payments to its enrollees in September, marking a major step in the first-of-its-kind initiative by a Texas city. A city memo released Monday detailed the progress made since May, when City Council OK’d the creation of the program and directed the city manager to negotiate an agreement with the UpTogether nonprofit that will administer the selection of recipients and receipt of payment.

The memo outlines the eligibility criteria for the monthly $1,000 payments, which were created with input from Austin Public Health, the Homeless Strategy Office, the Equity Office and UpTogether.

Participants must live within the city and Travis County limits, have a household income less than 60 percent of the area median family income for a family of four ($66,180), have not participated in UpTogether’s guaranteed income pilot program that ran from March 2021 to March 2022, and be 18 years of age. They must have experienced at least one of the following: moved from homelessness to permanent supportive housing; filed an eviction; been behind on rent for two-plus months within the past year; or received notice of intent to evict or a threat to vacate property within the past three months due to nonpayment of rent.

The city’s portion of the program will cover 85 families’ participation, with St. David’s Foundation contributing funding for 50 more families.

Community organizations that partner with UpTogether on the program will help to select participants who meet the eligibility criteria, with selections made by the end of this month.

The 2021-2022 pilot program was summarized in a report released last month by UpTogether. It found that all of the 173 enrollees located in Austin and Georgetown used their monthly $1,000 payment on basic expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, utilities, food, clothing, household items and transportation. Nearly half of the households reduced their overall debt, with 53 percent cutting debt by 75 percent or more. The median debt decrease per member was $14,000, while the median savings increase was nearly $3,000.

Workforce participation increased significantly as well, with the employment rate among participants growing to 67 percent, with 73 percent of recipients increasing their annual income during the 12 months. Self employment also increased by 8 percent during the pilot program, and applications for other government subsidies such as housing assistance fell from 27 percent to 19 percent.

The launch of the ongoing program by City Council drew heavy news coverage this spring because Austin is the first city in Texas to use city tax dollars to provide some kind of guaranteed income to those experiencing economic instability.

San Antonio launched its own program, also administered by UpTogether, during the pandemic using $2 million in federal pandemic relief money and another $3 million provided by nonprofit organizations. That program, which had already been in the works before the pandemic, provided an up-front payment of $1,908 to recipients in December 2020, with quarterly $400 stipends provided through the beginning of 2023.

As in the Austin program, San Antonio recipients mostly used the money for basic living expenses, as well as education, debt reduction and expenses related to entrepreneurship or business creation. Total assets on hand also increased by an average of $2,600, though more than 60 percent said receiving $400 every three months was not sufficient to build wealth.

Photo by Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

UpTogether and the University of Texas at San Antonio are conducting an analysis of the program to determine its overall impact and the viability of continuing it beyond 2023.

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