Pilot program offers $500 a month to struggling Arlington families

A new guaranteed-income pilot program aims to make living in Arlington, Virginia, more affordable for 200 low-income working families there.

Every month for 18 months, it will provide each of them $500.

“Basically, it’s a national movement, with the idea to get regular cash to people who are in need or who are low income, that has no strings attached,” said Anne Vor der Bruegge, director of grants and initiatives for Arlington Community Foundation, which is administering the program in partnership with Arlington County Department of Human Services.

Vor der Bruegge said the idea of guaranteed income has been around for years.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was a proponent of this,” she said. “About five years ago, Stockton, California, was the first location in the states to really pick up the notion and try to move it forward.”

Currently, at least 100 similar programs exist across the country, including in nearby Alexandria.

“They’ll be getting $500 a month, via a debit card that’s pre-loaded every month, and it will go on for 18 months,” Vor der Bruegge said.

The first 50 recipients have been selected from families who get housing grants from the county.

“These are very low-income households that have children in the home,” she said. “We hope people will be able to look up from the day-to-day waiting for the next crisis, and be able to look forward to things they want to work on in their own lives or for their family.”

Vor der Bruegge points to success stories from Stockton, and trusts Arlingtonians will receive the same benefits.

“Folks getting this extra cash are better positioned to have that proverbial $400 in their bank account for an emergency,” she said. “There were huge improvements in people’s emotional well-being; it really reduces stress and anxiety.”

In addition, helping at-need residents now can help position them to move out of poverty.

“More people were fully employed because they had this extra cash. It takes some extra cushion to look for a job or to get the certifications you need, so not having enough money to take those steps forward is actually a barrier to getting a better job,” Vor der Bruegge said.

Arlington County is on many lists for best places to live and work, but also has an extremely high cost of living.

“Here in Arlington we have about 10,000 households, or 25,000 individuals that are making less than $38,700 for a family of four,” she said. “Compare that to the county’s median household income of $129,000.”

Vor der Bruegge said the group requires funding to provide the financial floor to assist residents.

“We’re looking to the business community to step up and contribute here, we are looking to private donors and other philanthropic groups, and also, with our county we’re exploring the use of American Rescue Plan dollars for this,” she said.

The group’s mission includes “unconditionally promoting power, dignity, and belonging for families in Arlington.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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