Montgomery County to weigh sending $800 a month to low-income families for two years The "guaranteed income" pilot is up for a vote this week in the Montgomery County Council.
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Montgomery County to weigh sending $800 a month to low-income families for two years

Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (D-At Large) is co-sponsoring legislation that would create Maryland's first guaranteed income program. If approved, the two-year initiative would be funded with public and private dollars. Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

Montgomery County could be the first jurisdiction in Maryland to provide cash to low-income families, with no restrictions on how the money is spent.

A pilot program under consideration in the Montgomery County Council would send $800 a month to 300 low-income families in the county, including up to 100 households experiencing homelessness, for a period of up to two years. Unlike most public benefit programs, it would place no restrictions on how beneficiaries can spend the money.

On Tuesday, the council will consider a $1.9 million special appropriation to the 2022 operating budget that would fund seven months of the proposed "guaranteed income" pilot program. The rest of the money — an estimated $3.86 million — would be sourced from private funds, including a $1 million grant from the Meyer Foundation.

"I am excited about the potential for this program to assist families in permanently exiting poverty," said Council Vice President Albornoz (D-At Large), a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement. "It honors a family's resilience by placing trust in their ability to make their own decisions on what is best for their path forward."

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Arlington County and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, announced similar programs recently, as jurisdictions across the country have looked to basic income programs to support households that became unemployed during the pandemic. In D.C., a group of nonprofits launched another basic income pilot last year. The efforts in D.C. and Arlington are funded by philanthropic dollars; Alexandria is paying for its program with federal relief money. Montgomery County would tap the county's reserves to fund the first $2 million. The council and County Executive Marc Elrich "will work to leverage additional private philanthropy" to raise the remaining funds, according to a council staff report.

The concept of a guaranteed income gained a foothold nationally after the former mayor of Stockton, California, created the country's first basic income program targeting low-income households in 2019. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang elevated a similar concept on the national stage during the 2020 Democratic primary, though his pitch for a nationwide universal basic income program would have sent money to all American adults, not just low-income residents. The Biden administration's $300 monthly child tax credit has also been compared to a basic income program.

An analysis of the first year of Stockton's initiative showed that recipients obtained full-time jobs at more than twice the rate of non-recipients, experienced less depression and anxiety, and were better prepared to cover unexpected costs.

Researchers at the Universities at Shady Grove would study the effects of Montgomery County's basic income program, if it's implemented.

Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services is working with the Meyer Foundation and the quasi-public Collaboration Council to develop the effort, including eligibility guidelines for participants, according to the staff report.

Before the pandemic, a single parent raising two young children in Montgomery County needed to earn at least an estimated $86,580 per year to be self-sufficient, the staff report says. But between 2020 and 2040, more than a quarter of new households in the county are expected to earn much less than that — between $25,000 and $50,000, according to a July 2020 forecast — suggesting that many families could require some form of public assistance.

In 2018, an estimated 47% of renter households in Montgomery County paid more than 30% of their income on housing, according to a county analysis.

Council members Albornoz and Will Jawando, also an at-large Democrat, are expected to introduce the special appropriation on Tuesday. A public hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 2 at 1:30 p.m.

"I want Montgomery County to be on the forefront of understanding and implementing solutions that improve the lives of our residents and allow them to achieve their full potential," Jawando said in a statement.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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