Phoenix approves universal basic income for 1,000 families program
Phoenix city council on Tuesday approved a plan to provide monthly payments to about 1,000 local low-income families for a year. Call it Phoenix’s own Universal Basic Income Program.
The plan will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest $ 1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief bill that Congress approved in March. The city received $ 196 million relief bill and voted Tuesday to spend $ 12 million in monthly payments, officially known as the Phoenix Family Financial Assistance Program.
“We’re basically going to pick 1,000 families to get $ 1,000 [per month] for 12 months, ”said Carlos Garcia, Phoenix City Council member. “People know what their needs are, and I think it’s better for them to decide how to use financial aid than we predetermine.
Low-income families with children earning 80 percent of the region’s median income or less – 80 percent of the region’s median income for a family of four is currently $ 63,200 per year – will be eligible for the program, according to city documents. Families who have previously applied for rental assistance and residents of city-owned public housing will also be eligible. Recipients of monthly payments will be determined by a lottery system.
Payments will be issued to a debit card that families can use to purchase anything except alcohol, tobacco, and lottery tickets. The cards will be programmed to refuse purchases of these prohibited items, according to Jeanine L’Ecuyer, spokesperson for Mayor Kate Gallego. Payment recipients will also not be able to use the cards to withdraw money.
City councilors Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring cast the two dissenting voices on the program.
The city aims to start issuing the payments no later than January 2022, but ideally it will “get them to people before the holidays,” Garcia said.
There appears to be some appetite at Town Hall to extend the program beyond the first 12 months of payments. Municipal staff advised that the board “continue” the program on the basis of the “first year of results”.
“I believe this program is going to be really successful,” Garcia said. “I hope we can come back and add more money to it.”
The adoption of the program by Phoenix City Council follows similar initiatives by local governments across the country. Last May, the LA County Board of Directors approved a pilot program to issue $ 1,204 in monthly payments to 150 young adults for three years. Chicago officials currently weigh in giving $ 500 a month to 5,000 low-income households after receiving federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Phoenix has always struggled to secure federal pandemic relief money for those in need. Phoenix New Times recently reported that as of July 19, the city still had $ 32 million in rent assistance funds.
Garcia said families who believe they are eligible for the program should contact the City of Phoenix Department of Human Services, although he cautioned that the logistics of the program must be finalized.
“I would encourage people, if they need it now, to call this helpline and start asking for help now,” he said. “We will unveil details of who and how they will be selected in the coming months.”