Local News$1,000 Per Month Universal Basic Income Pilot Program on Austin City Council’s Agenda

The program will select 85 families to receive the monthly benefit as an experiment to judge its effectiveness.
April 19, 2022
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The Austin City Council will consider approval of a $1.18 million universal basic income (UBI) pilot program that will award 85 families $1,000 per month for one year.

It is part of the “Mayors for Guaranteed Income” initiative of which Austin Mayor Steve Adler is a member, along with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “Even prior to the pandemic, people who were working two and three jobs still couldn’t afford basic necessities,” reads that website.

“COVID-19 has only further exposed the economic fragility of most American households, and has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people.”

At a Monday morning roundtable about the topic, Adler said that a couple years ago when this topic was first broached with him, he was initially “questioning of such a program.”

“There’s always a question about using taxpayer dollars [this way],” Adler said, adding, “[but here the beneficiaries] might know better than we do how to spend this money.”

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The first such program began in Stockton, California in 2020 and it has extended to dozens across the country.

On the council’s Thursday agenda, the pilot program falls under the city’s Equity Office and the funding will come out of the General Revenue fund. Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks said on Monday that the pilot will inform the city of best practices to implement a larger program down the road.

The program’s design, including which families will take part, is still up in the air and will begin to be sorted out after the council approves the item this week. He did say that “housing insecurity” will be prioritized in that selection process — something loosely defined but may include eviction history, poverty status, and applicants’ ability to pay bills on time.

UpTogether, which runs a nationwide private UBI program, is the vendor chosen to oversee the program which is estimated to begin either in late May or early June should the council approve it. Oaks said the $1,000 figure was arrived at as roughly half of the average monthly rent in the City of Austin.

Unlike other social services, the allotted money will not come with any attached strings and will not be taxable as income, according to Oaks. The Urban Institute is also part of the arrangement to analyze the study’s findings.

“Having supplemental income makes all the difference,” Councilwoman Vanessa Fuentes said at the roundtable. Oaks said that in the other pilot programs around the country, the data found increased levels of employment, improved financial savings, and more free time for the participants.

Asked what any negative findings were for these other programs, Oaks mentioned only “finite resources” being a limited factor.

While Austin has remained among the lowest unemployment areas in the state as Texas recovers from the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, many businesses continue to struggle to find employees to fill open positions. Asked if this might exacerbate that struggle, Oaks said the “data has been completely the opposite.”

In 2020, Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang ran largely on a platform of implementing a federal UBI program. The idea does have support from some on the libertarian right, such as Charles Murray, but where Yang’s and Austin’s UBI programs would exist in addition to current social welfare spending, Murray’s would replace it entirely.

This week is the third time the item will come before the council, a plan which began as a suggestion by Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety task force.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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