Council moves forward with income pilot program

Friday, May 6, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City council members at Thursday’s meeting approved a $1.1 million pilot program to study the impact of providing $1,000 a month to 85 families for a year, with a focus on families threatened with deportation. Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter voted no. Council members Mackenzie Kelly and Leslie Pool, who had expressed doubts about the program, were not present.

Mayor Steve Adler and Councilwoman Vanessa Fuentes were the original sponsors of the resolution asking City Manager Spencer Cronk to go ahead and contract with UpTogether to set up the program.

The Council heard from about two dozen proponents of the program and a few opponents. Many advocates said they had experience working with the poor or received help from programs like RISE (Relief in a State of Emergency).

Ana Gonzalez, a city employee, asked the Council to support the program. She told them she was an immigrant who received help after coming to the United States.

“I was a single mom at 17 and was struggling when I came here to Austin. It was because of the investments made in my future that I was able to complete graduate school…I completed a Ph.D. .and I’m giving back to my community. It’s the investments that have made the difference,” she said. “It’s not freebies. It’s just believing that people will stand up and do what they are capable of…when you believe in them.

Devon Karle has described himself as a single father whose home was badly damaged by broken pipes in last winter’s ice storm. Then he found out he had HIV. He said he went through endless rounds of paperwork but was never able to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Then UpTogether came into his life “and man, they saved me. They took a lot of stress off me. He said he didn’t know what would have happened to his 11-year-old daughter if UpTogether hadn’t come. He urged the Board to approve the pilot program.

Richard Smith, an opponent of the program, complained that the Council would waste taxpayers’ money. He said the Council should not use the city as a “test tube for conducting social experiments with taxpayers’ money based on personal ideologies”. He said Austin taxpayers already provide hundreds of millions of dollars to people in need through federal programs and charities. Smith is running against council member Paige Ellis in District 8.

Council member Kathie Tovo, who supported the program, asked Adler to add requirements to the resolution for the city manager to notify council after the program has been running for three months and six months. These requirements have been added to the resolution.

Although Kelly did not attend the meeting, Adler said she offered two amendments, which he found acceptable. There was some concern about negotiating the contract with UpTogether without going through the RFP process. So, at Kelly’s request, Adler added a requirement to the resolution that if the city goes beyond the pilot, it will be through a request for proposals process. Kelly also asked the city to seek additional sources of funding, such as the federal government or charities. This has been added to the resolution.

Alter explained his opposition to spending more than $1 million on the program. “Looking at the various issues and challenges ahead of May, I see that we can’t open our summer pools because we can’t hire enough lifeguards, partly because we can’t afford a salary or benefits. sufficiently competitive social. We have alarming shortages with our 911 dispatch personnel, in part because we cannot afford to offer them competitive enough wages or benefits. We have victim services advisors who do not have vehicles for their units, which affects their ability to provide services.

“Just yesterday, my staff was meeting with representatives of volunteer groups trying to find housing for Afghan families who are asking for financial assistance from the city to help these families stay in their homes. We are extremely challenged to meet the demands of our first responders and other workers on wages and benefits, from our EMS workers to our AFSCME members and campaign for $20-$22 an hour.

For those reasons, Alter said she couldn’t vote to fund the pilot, though she added, “Families in Austin will benefit.”

But Adler said the program would bring in unspent money to get people out of homelessness, a crisis for everyone in the city.

“One of the serious issues we face is people in tents on our streets. … Frankly, we’ve been working on this for years. We all know that once someone ends up in a tents, it’s expensive” to get him back into housing. “Wouldn’t it be great to arrest a lot of these people before they end up in tents? This program is so much cheaper,” said he said, noting that at some point in the future, the program could be “funded by a lot of people.”

Adler said he was disheartened to hear the rhetoric calling the program a “gift.”

“People refer to the school meals program as a gift (and) to education as a gift. I think that’s so misleading and so wrong,” he said. “We invest in our people… (we should) give people the opportunity and the resources to take care of themselves.”

Austin is one of 50 cities nationwide to pilot guaranteed income programs.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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