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Alexandria opens up on details for new guaranteed basic income program

One of the most high-profile uses of American Rescue Plan funding in Alexandria is the city’s foray into providing a guaranteed basic income for some of the city’s lowest-income residents. At a meeting today (Monday), leadership of the program shared new information about how the program will work.

Kate Garvey, director of the department of community and human service, outlined the basics of the program in a Zoom meeting today.

“[Guaranteed basic income] raises the floor so that people can live with dignity and have the power to make their own choices,” Garvey said.

Garvey also specified that the city is pursuing guaranteed basic income — an income supplement that helps to elevate the standard of living for residents making below a certain income level — rather than universal income, which goes to eveyone equally.

The Alexandria program follows the work of other localities, and Garvey said the city is working off the model laid out by Stockton, California, in particular. The pandemic, Garvey said, was another push toward the program.

“The disproportionate impact [COVID-19] had on Latino and communities of color is profound,” Garvey said, “and it calls us to a different kind of action.”

Garvey said a guaranteed basic income is part of an attempt to close the gap in racial income disparities.

In the pilot stage of the city’s guaranteed basic income program, 150 individuals will receive $500 per month for 24 months. Other supportive services will be offered, Garvey said, but not mandated. Eligible residents will be those earning an income at 30-40% of area median income. Staff said the program will require that participants have some form of income other than the program.

Area Median Income levels, via City of Alexandria

Along with the group of residents receiving the funding, Garvey said there will a “control group” that is not receiving funding.

“Some of these things are challenging: the fact that we have a phenomenal project but only 150 individuals can be in that is one,” Garvey said. “We’re not normally comfortable with the idea of having a control group, but this will help inform: what’s the difference when you have a resource like this. It’s important as we’re pushing and pressing on policy makers for why it’s important.”

Lesa Gilbert, director of the Department of Community and Human Services Center for Economic Support, said the program’s success will be measured in how the funding impacts residents enrolled in the program.

“Success will be measured in better quality of life, quality time with family, paying bills and taking care of financial need without stressors,” Gilbert said.

There are still a few hurdles to clear before project implementation. Garvey said up next is that the project’s implementation plan will need to be reviewed and approved by the city manager. The city will also need to make decisions on how cash will be dispersed and monitor the future of the program.

“We will establish something we’re calling an economic mobility advisory committee to keep an eye toward the future on what transformation is possible,” Garvey said, “and looking at how individuals and families can be supported.”

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