Arlington, Virginia gave people $500 a month. They worked less overtime and pursued education instead, a report found.
- Arlington, Virginia gave low-income residents $500 a month for 18 months.
- Some recipients said they cut down overtime hours to pursue their education.
A guaranteed basic income program in Arlington, Virginia that gave low-income residents $500 a month with no strings attached allowed them to find their footing, seek out education, and improve their job security, a final report found.
The nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation launched the program — called Arlington's Guarantee — in 2021 with the Arlington County Department of Human Services to address wealth disparities in the Washington, DC metro area.
The program provided 200 low-income households with no strings attached payments of $500 a month for 18 months, according to a report released by the foundation after the program ended in December.
Researchers found that 98% of recipients said their families were better off by the end of the program. Recipients said reducing their weekend and overtime hours helped them pursue education and certifications that could lead to higher-paying jobs.
One participant said they used their extra time to obtain a certified nursing assistant's license. Another said they started studying for a pharmacy degree. And another said they quit driving for Uber to open their own business, the report says.
"With the additional money I was able to go to school," one recipient said. "I didn't have the pressure to work more. I had flexibility in my budget with more than one stream of income, which opens up more options to tap into."
Most participants said they spent the extra money on buying groceries, paying bills, buying household essentials, and paying rent, according to the report. About 84% of participants strongly agreed that the program had helped them regain control of their future.
"Before, if we needed something, we didn't have the money to go buy it," one recipient said. "Gas was very expensive so we didn't go many places. Now we can."
Most people enrolled in the program were living in county-provided housing and making 30% or less than the average median income in Arlington when the program started, according to the report.
By the end, participants had increased employment levels and higher incomes, the report found. Recipients were also better able to meet their basic needs, like food and transportation.
Still, the "destabilizing effects" of inflation, the expiration of pandemic eviction moratoriums, and the "insurmountable" housing affordability problem in Arlington hampered improvements in housing security, the report says.
Recipients remained "severely rent burdened" with most paying more than 50% of their income on rent, according to the report.
Participants' financial stability also suffered due to economic pressure, and the aggregate household debt among the recipients increased during the program's run, the report found.
The Arlington Community Fund is now working with Virginia lawmakers to develop an expanded child tax credit for low-income families, which would be similar to federal credits given during the pandemic, according to the document.
Arlington is not the first city to experiment with a guaranteed basic income program. Similar initiatives have popped up nationwide in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Austin, Denver, Minneapolis, and others.
In Austin, a program gave some residents $1,000 a month for one year. Most reported spending the money on essentials like housing and food. Some lawmakers in Texas, however, oppose basic income programs. One state senator asked the state attorney general to declare a similar program in the Houston area unconstitutional.
Program researchers say the result of the program in Arlington shows that giving people no-strings-attached payments provides "critical bandwidth" to communities that have long been denied access to wealth through systemic racism and punitive policies.
The report notes that while the payments fill "critical gaps," they can't replace more traditional safety nets, especially in Arlington, where high rents creates an extra barrier.
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