Fairfax County becomes third Virginia locality to pilot guaranteed income program

108 localities have joined the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income network.

Published: August 18, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

(The Center Square) — Beginning in 2024, Fairfax County will be the third locality in Virginia to offer a pilot guaranteed income program after Richmond and Alexandria.

Pilot guaranteed income programs are — in this case, localities — attempt to provide a guaranteed, consistent direct cash benefit every month to a limited number of families in their city or county who meet specific qualifications. As they are experimental, they have a prescribed end date.

The concept of guaranteed income, or universal basic income, has been around for a while, but this variation of the program started with Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California, in 2019, when Tubbs announced the inauguration of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, or SEED, the first mayor-led pilot guaranteed income program. A little over a year later, in June 2020, Tubbs founded Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a “network of mayors” who believe that “all Americans [should] have an income floor” and that “financial freedom is something we all deserve,” according to a Nevada mayor.

According to its website, 108 localities have joined the Mayors for a Guaranteed Income network. Fairfax County still needs to be listed. Some of the programs have now expired; some are in full swing.

Program details vary widely wherever implemented. Mayors or county officials can initiate a program. Cash benefits run the gamut, as do the number of benefactors and the criteria they must meet to qualify. For some localities, like Alexandria, their programs are funded entirely by pandemic relief dollars; for others, like Richmond and Fairfax, their programs are partially funded by COVID relief funds.

The Richmond Resilience Initiative began in October 2020. It offers $500 per month for 24 months to a select number of working residents who currently aren’t receiving federal benefits, are enrolled in the Office of Community Wealth Building workforce, and have dependent children under 18 living at home.

Participants must make a minimum of $12.71 per hour, but no more than what the program defines as a living wage.

The Alexandria Recurring Income for Success and Equity program, or ARISE, is probably the most generous of the three — not in terms of the direct cash benefit, but in terms of its eligibility criteria. Unlike Richmond’s program, it does not include a work, citizenship or dependent requirement.

ARISE offers a direct cash benefit of $500 to 170 qualifying residents for 24 months. To qualify, applicants must have a total household income (of all household members 18 years and older) at or below 50% of the Area Median Income.

Under ARISE, income is defined as “money earned from working plus cash benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and child support.”

Participating in the program can affect eligibility for some government assistance programs but not others.

The Fairfax County, Economic Mobility Pilot, does require, like Richmond, that applicants be employed, have at least one dependent child living at home, and not receive public assistance benefits at the time of application or enrollment. But like Alexandria, it does not require that they be U.S. citizens.

The county has limited eligibility to residents living within 10 of its zip codes and will offer $750 per month to 180 families with an income of 150%-250% of the 2023 Federal Poverty Level.

One thing distinguishing guaranteed income programs from other government assistance programs is that participants are free to use the money however they wish — there are no unallowable expenses.

Some programs, including those in Fairfax and Alexandria, offer or require financial coaching for program participants.

Fairfax County's frequently asked questions note that the income is not taxable "due to being disaster COVID-19 relief."

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