Some low-income families to receive funds through Economic Mobility Pilot

August 25, 2023

Fairfax Times

By Collin Cope

Up to 180 low-income families in Fairfax County will receive $750 monthly as part of an all-new Economic Mobility Pilot.

 Utilizing funds from the general county budget and excess disaster relief from the pandemic, the 15-month pilot aims to assist families during economic hardship and help them achieve financial security.

 “Many families in Fairfax County are still recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19. We’re proud to join cities and counties locally and around the country to pilot a guaranteed income program here in Fairfax County,” said Lloyd Tucker, director of Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services.

Each applicant must be employed, over 18, and have at least one child younger than 16 years old living at home. Applicants are also limited to the county zip codes 22306, 22309, 20190, 20191, 22041, 20170, 22003, 22150, 20120 and 20151.

“The zip codes included in the pilot program are based on the current Opportunity Neighborhood boundaries and the zip codes they serve, overlaid with Fairfax County’s Vulnerability Index,” said Pallas Washington, deputy director of Fairfax County’s Neighborhood & Community Services.

Additionally, a family’s total household income must fall between 150 and 250% of the 2023 federal poverty level, with a family of two making between $29,580 and $49,300. For each additional child, the minimum income increases by $7,710, and the maximum income increases by $12,850.

While the program is available to those who file taxes and immigrants residing in the county, households receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) are ineligible due to the impact of their pre-existing benefits.

The pilot’s primary goal is to assist working families who remain in proximity to the federal poverty level but would not otherwise qualify for aid. However, while applicants are limited to this economic criterion, the county says that a change in income throughout the 15-month pilot would not impact enrollment.

“A change in income will not impact enrollment in the FCEMP,” the county’s promotional site says. “The financial assistance payments from this pilot are not included in gross income or taxable due to being disaster COVID-19 relief.”

The county emphasizes that such a program would not lead to a mass exodus of the workplace. Referencing a program in California, the county stated on its website that research from similar pilots yielded no decrease in the labor market.

“Research from similar pilots has shown that participants do not drop out of the labor market when receiving unconditional cash payments. Most recently, results from a demonstration in Stockton, Calif. shows that participants receiving monthly unconditional cash payments moved into full-time employment at a higher rate than the control group,” said Washington.

According to the county, participants may also attend optional financial coaching or receive additional supportive resources to assist them long-term.

“The Fairfax County Economic Mobility Pilot is intended to teach families in need how to become financially secure,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay.

Arlington and Alexandria already utilize a guaranteed income program, which proponents in Fairfax aim to learn from.

“We are working closely with our colleagues in Arlington, Alexandria, and in other jurisdictions around the country to better understand how a regular cash disbursement can impact the economic stability and well-being of residents when they are able to make their own decisions about how to spend the money,” said Washington.

George Mason University will conduct a research study on the efficacy of this pilot, offering participants the option to share their “socio-economic well-being” in a baseline study before and after the pilot.

“In partnership with United Way of the National Capital Area and George Mason University, the pilot will allow Fairfax County to learn how a regular cash disbursement can impact the economic stability and well-being of residents when they are able to make their own decisions about how to spend the money,” said Washington.

Fairfax County Democrats are the leading proponents of the pilot and feel this program will improve the lives of those receiving assistance.

“Providing families with these resources will build their independence and will benefit all members of our community,” said McKay. “The federal funds we use for this pilot are critical in helping create more resilient communities.”

 However, some representatives are frustrated with the county’s use of excess funds.

 “I’m disappointed this was passed without a separate Board vote or resident input. We should be giving residents truly in need a hand up, not a handout,” said Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity. “Programs like these have shown to have little long-term impact, do not require anything of the participants, and are more like a lottery than a support program.”