Montgomery County considering hundreds of 'no strings attached' payments in latest relief effort

A plan that includes an $800 a month "no string attached" payment is in the works to help those Montgomery County, Maryland families and households who were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic made matters worse. County leaders are set to hold a Tuesday news conference introducing a bill on this effort, called the "Guaranteed Income Pilot Program."

READ MORE: New program in Alexandria will give $500 a month to low-income families

"If people are more self-sufficient, If they get a full time job, if they move off of some sort of public assistance in the future, that’s good for our economy, that’s good for our economy, that’s good for all of our residents. It’s good for public safety, it has a lot of spiraling benefits," said Councilmember Will Jawando, who is spearheading the bill, noting worsening food insecurities and high rents in one of the state’s richest counties.

Jawando explained the program to FOX 5, saying it would a household with an $800-a-month payment for 24-months (two years) and there will be no conditions on that payment. FOX 5 is told 300 Montgomery County households would be selected, including people from all across the county -- residents who were formerly homeless or people struggling to pay childcare.

An appropriations is bill being introduced on Tuesday to hammer-out how it would be funded and who can qualify. Right now I’m told the full cost of the program is around $5.76 million, costing early $2 million in the first year. Half of that nearly $2 million would come from a private organization – the other, from the county’s General Fund Reserves. Officials are looking into whether the county’s half can be funded with federal COVID relief dollars instead. To qualify, one would need to be a county resident for certain period. FOX 5 did ask and was told applicants will not be asked their legal status.

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Jawando also said the two-year pilot program will be studied by a local university.

"I think we’ll learn that when you give people flexibility to use basic needs, they’re more productive, they use less public assistance and they get to achieve their potential and expand their opportunity for themselves and their family," said the Councilmember.

A lot of the model for this pilot program is coming from a program launched by Stockton California’s former mayor in 2019.  A first year review had found the extra money helped people find full employment, they were less depression. Jawando also notes that the first year study found less than 1% of the money was used for alcohol and tobacco.

Asking different county residents about the program on Monday, some saw the payments as a positive investment in the community. At least one did say he is not in favor of handing out money but also sounded in favor of the program as a temporary one to study. That same resident said he would like to see even more resources put into job training.

READ MORE: Before Andrew Yang, MLK was the champion of universal basic income

Jawando confirmed the county would also seek waivers so those applicants would not receive the cash payments in lieu of other government benefits.

A public hearing is slated for Nov. 2  with a goal of start taking applications in early 2022.

This is not the only program of the like in our area. Alexandria’s City Council passed a similar Guaranteed Income Pilot Program over the summer. City leaders are currently working on the implementation of that program.

Arlington also offers a similar program.