AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been more than a year since the City of Austin approved a pilot program providing $1,000 checks every month to low-income families.
Since September, 135 households have been receiving this money.
The guaranteed income pilot is put on by UpTogether, a national nonprofit that worked with 10 community-based partners to raise more than $500,000 of additional funds for the program.
Originally, the City of Austin allocated $1.1 million of taxpayer dollars to support 85 individuals facing extreme financial hardship. The extra allocation of philanthropic funds allowed for 50 more participants.
Stephanie Hendon is a mother of four and lives at an affordable housing complex in North Austin. She says her life — and luck — have been completely flipped around since her selection to participate in the guaranteed income pilot program.
Prior to the program, Hendon was living paycheck to paycheck.
“We ran out of money,” she said. “We were homeless or half homeless, half living in a shelter.”
Without a car, transportation was also an issue for her family.
“My husband was catching 12 buses a day to get the kids back and forth to school,” Hendon said.
Yet, everything changed after $1,000 direct deposits started showing up in her bank account every month. She’s even been able to take some time off work to focus on becoming a leasing agent.
“I don’t have to worry that I don’t have enough for my bills,” she explained. “I can take time to get the training I need so that I can apply for better positions.”
Urban Institute is a research firm tasked with evaluating the pilot program. Last month, their staff released a six-month fact sheet with data on each participant.
“The Austin participants are often using this money to buy themselves a little bit of time and space to reorder their lives,” said Mary Bogle, principal research associate at Urban Institute.
According to Urban Institute’s study, participants have already experienced substantial improvements in food security and household stability.
But despite data pointing towards early success, Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly has some doubts.
“If I were to vote on this program this week, I would still vote no,” Kelly said. “I don’t think it’s the job of municipal government to give money, without strings attached.”
For Hendon, life has never been better. With the extra income, she’s been able to buy a car, move her family into a new apartment and pursue her passion.
“As a leasing agent, I will be able to make more money,” Hendon said. “I will be able to help people find their homes and help them out of homelessness.”
The final paychecks for the pilot program arrive in August. For six months afterward, Urban Institute will survey each participant to evaluate how they handle the absence of guaranteed income.
Austin is the first city in Texas to use taxpayer dollars for a guaranteed income pilot. San Antonio and El Paso County have also worked with UpTogether, distributing cash to low-income households with federal stimulus dollars and charitable donations.