2,000 Participants Out of 82,000 Given $500 a Month in Houston, Texas

  • Uplift Harris, a guaranteed income program in Texas, accepted just over 2% of applicants.
  • The program gives $500 per month for 18 months to 1,928 low-income households in the Houston area.
  • Participants say they hope to use the money to help pay for housing costs or everyday expenses.

Just over 2 percent of applicants to a guaranteed income program in the Houston area were accepted — a lower acceptance rate than Harvard or Yale.

Starting this month, 1,928 families will receive $500 per month, with no strings attached, through Uplift Harris, a guaranteed income program in the Texas county that includes Houston. More than 82,000 people have applied to the program, which lasts 18 months, and applicants were alerted of their acceptance status starting March 22.

“What sets these programs apart and really works is that it’s unconditional money. So we don’t tell people they have to spend money on anything in particular, and we don’t let’s put no conditions on them,” Dustin Palmer said. , U.S. country director at GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that administers the program with technology partner AidKit. “We really trust people to do what they need to do with the money to get back on their feet.”

Participants were randomly selected via a lottery without candidate ranking. Some people were also selected to be part of a comparison group in which they complete surveys and participate in research but do not receive cash assistance.

Palmer said GiveDirectly worked with Harris County to determine a “really meaningful amount of money” distributed to each participant without compromising other benefits they might receive. Palmer said distributing less money to more participants may not have the same impact as other successful pilots nationwide.

The majority of selected participants live in high-poverty zip codes and have household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. Some participants were selected through the county’s Coordinated Care Access and Self-Sufficiency program, which helps vulnerable residents improve their outcomes.

“This is a type of support that is not available at this magnitude under the broader U.S. safety net,” Palmer said. “The interest comes from people imagining what they could do with that money to meet their unique needs.”

More than 16% of Harris County residents live in poverty, BI previously reported, a statistic exacerbated by the pandemic. Even though more than 80,000 applicants did not receive payment, those who did were thrilled, Palmer said. He said most of the people he helped on board expressed excitement about “winning the lottery” and two of them danced as they got to their appointments .

“We’ve had people who are in really unstable housing situations and want to use their money to get stability, and we know from a lot of research that people are using that money to pay their rent, that which is a significant expense for people,” Palmer said. . “They’re excited about that stability. One person told us they wanted to buy supplies to turn their truck into a food truck, so you see that entrepreneurial opportunity.”

He said the program has enrolled young parents looking to raise their children without as much financial burden, grandparents looking to support their children and mid-career workers looking to put in fewer hours. He said participants expressed a feeling that their dreams and aspirations are more achievable.

Palmer said thousands of people have applied because of the flexibility of the program, which differs from some other benefits that either give too little money to make a difference or limit spending on certain items.

The program’s $20.5 million in funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, which helped with pandemic recovery efforts. For many participants, these payments are essential to their survival, especially after pandemic-related aid programs, like rental assistance or supplemental unemployment insurance, end.

Still, Palmer acknowledged that the program can only expand as funds become available, meaning only a small group can receive these benefits at this time. Palmer said some county public officials have expressed optimism that the program will continue in future years.

“For some of the more traditional supports that have been around for a long time, like SNAP or Medicaid, the processing times are very long right now, and there’s a ton of administrative burden to access them,” Palmer said. “We just saw the largest one-year increase in poverty ever recorded in the United States.”

The pilot project was opposed by politicians, including Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt, who in January sent a letter to the state attorney general about whether counties can legally adopt guaranteed income programs. Bettencourt represents Senate District 7, encompassing most of West Harris County.

“It’s not a self-governing city,” Bettencourt said. Houston Public Media. “They can’t create new laws themselves. And I don’t see anywhere since I’ve been in office that the state has given them the authority to implement a program like Uplift Harris.”

Still, Texas cities have launched other basic income pilots with promising results, such as Austin’s Guaranteed Income Pilot, which serves 135 low-income families, who each receive $1,000 per month. Participants reported spending most of their money on housing, food, and other daily expenses.

“We really encourage cities and government policymakers to think about this in the early stages to understand what works best,” Palmer said, adding that many pilot projects across the country are experimenting with different formats. He said cities are exploring various new sources of tax revenue that could help grow these pilot projects.

“We always say that cash aid, no strings attached, is the best-studied intervention internationally and it really works,” Palmer said. “People trust what the research says and I feel really optimistic.”


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