Julian Haynes, partnerships and strategy director in Maryland for the Meyer Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., speaks to reporters Tuesday about a guaranteed income pilot program for low-income Montgomery County residents. Credit: Photo by Steve Bohnel

Under a new program to help Montgomery County’s low-income residents, 300 households would get $800 a month for two years.

On Tuesday, county officials and nonprofit partners — who will share the costs — announced the public-private partnership to provide guaranteed income for some, beginning in early 2022.

Montgomery County will work with the Meyer Foundation, a foundation that “pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington community in which economically disadvantaged people thrive,” according to its website.

The initial rollout of the pilot will consist of $1,993,832 from the county government’s general fund reserves, and $1 million from the Meyer Foundation, council staff documents show. The total cost of the pilot for 24 months is $5.76 million.

County Council members and County Executive Marc Elrich’s office will work with other philanthropic organizations to cover the difference. 

Council Member Will Jawando said at a news briefing with reporters on Tuesday that there is great need for such a program in Montgomery County.

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Roughly half of the renters in Montgomery County are paying 30% or more of their income on housing, meaning they are “cost-burdened,” Jawando said. He added that many residents make difficult decisions on whether to pay for rent, groceries, utilities or other essentials every day.

“When your basic needs are met, you can make more strategic financial decisions,” Jawando said. 

Jawando was joined by Elrich; County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz; Council Member Evan Glass; Raymond Crowel, director the county Department of Health and Human Services; Elijah Wheeler, executive director of the Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families; and Julian Haynes, partnerships and strategy director in Maryland for the Meyer Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.

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Crowel said in an interview that officials are figuring out the parameters for which 300 households would be included in the pilot.

According to council documents, up to 100 of the initial 300 households will be residents in the homeless system, or “Continuum of Care.” Those residents have either been homeless or are at risk of being homeless, officials said.

Income levels might play a role in picking recipients for the pilot, but conversations with the Meyer Foundation and other community partners are a tricky policy debate, Crowel said. 

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“We’re thinking this has got to be a broader range of folks … to give us a chance to understand what happens at various levels of income,” Crowel said.

He and others, however, said one challenge is convincing opponents that the income is a “handup, and not a handout,” as Glass described during the news briefing. 

Multiple officials said it is important to view those experiencing poverty not as people with character flaws, but rather those who are undergoing challenges in life.

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“This is actually love and care in the form of policy. … We should not tolerate poverty or judge or marginalize those that experience it,” Wheeler said.

Jawando told reporters there will not be a sign-up period for the program. County officials and partners will work over the next few months to identify 300 households for the pilot.

Haynes said in an interview that outside of the $1 million it is providing, the Meyer Foundation also works on coalition building and grassroots organizations that focus on racial equity and economic justice, overarching topics tied to the guaranteed-income pilot.

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He added that there is a lot of good information from other similar pilots nationwide that prove the effectiveness of guaranteed income for low-income households. One pilot was in Stockton, Calif., where 125 households were given $500 a month for 24 months.

“That has been rigorously evaluated, at least the initial years of it,” Haynes said of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) pilot. “And it has shown very clear outcomes with regard to the recipients of those dollars, with regard to housing stability, reducing economic and income volatility … and greater health outcomes.”

“Those things are kind of hard to argue with, because all of those benchmarks or metrics … make the county stronger, ultimately,” Haynes added. 

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Jawando, Elrich and others told reporters that businesses might be struggling to hire people right now, but $800 a month is not going to prevent those people from seeking jobs. Jawando called it a “wage problem, not a worker problem.” 

He said his mother, while growing up, had to work two or three low-wage jobs to make ends meet.

In an interview, Elrich said it would be difficult to convince others who might be ideologically opposed to the program.

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But he is interested in hopefully continuing the program after the pilot finishes, with future funding built into the county’s annual budgeting process. Demand for this initial round will be high, Elrich said. 

“If you’ve got 20,000 households that are paying [at least] 60% of their income [on housing], I’ve got 20,000 candidates for 300 slots,” Elrich said.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Nov. 2 at 1:30 p.m.

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Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com