AUSTIN (KXAN) — This Thursday, Austin City Council will vote to decide whether to officially launch a proposed guaranteed income pilot program, a yearlong initiative that would give $1,000 a month to 85 families or individuals who are facing extreme financial hardships.

During a media roundtable Monday morning, Austin Mayor Steve Adler looked to the initiative as one possible solution to affordability concerns within the city, as well as a preventive measure to protect more people from living on the streets.

“The Austin pilot is going to focus on families that are housing insecure, probably families that are facing or near eviction, perhaps,” Adler said. “Because we know that it is so expensive for our community to deal with folks once they have lost their housing.”

As part of the conversation, Adler pointed to the city’s Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness, a more than $500 million initiative to provide housing for 3,000 individuals experiencing homelessness over a three-year timespan. It’s an effort Adler said he supports, while also noting it’s an example of the extreme costs of combating homelessness that comes once people lose their homes.

“If we can divert people from that, if we can keep people in their homes and give them the opportunity to maybe get a little bit more workforce training or to really pull their family together, I think it’s going to be a great 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 on the program is capped at $1.18 million, per city documents.

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

Stockton, California has served as a template 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, with no strings attached and no work requirements,” per city documents.

Eligible residents had to meet the following criteria:

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

Data from the first year of the program found residents used the 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 department stores like Walmart and Target — and utilities.

Data from the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration found program participants were “in a more stable financial position” one year into the guaranteed income program. Specifically, 52% of participants reported they could pay for an unexpected expense with cash if an emergency arose one year into the program; comparatively, only 25% of recipients said they could at the start of the program.

For many families living paycheck to paycheck, they are one emergency away from financial crisis, Austin City Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said. She noted the impact similar programs like the child tax credit have had on families in need of extra resources to provide for themselves and accessing the essentials they need.

She added her hope is this guaranteed income program provides more agency for working class families and individuals to pad their incomes and prevent disaster from striking, should an emergency occur.

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