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Montgomery County launches plan to give $800 a month to hundreds of residents

300 vulnerable households will get the $800 "guaranteed income" cash payments for two years to use however they want.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — What would you do with an extra $800 a month, no strings attached?

Pay off debt? Put the kids in child care? Enroll in college classes?

Montgomery County is officially joining the guaranteed basic income movement, becoming the first jurisdiction in Maryland to offer direct cash payments to low-income residents.

"It would help us with bills and food and things we're trying not to spend too much on now," Aspen Hill resident Jose Rodriguez, a chef, said. 

Starting at the beginning of next year, Montgomery County plans to pick 300 households at different points on the income scale, identified as "vulnerable," and give them $800 a month for 24 months to use in any way they want.

"It would really be nice, help out with transportation a lot," said Aliyah Brammer, a Wheaton resident who says she can barely afford bus fare to get around.

The millions of dollars to fund the program will come from a public-private partnership with money from foundations, as well as funding approved by the county executive, and the county council.

"There will not be a way to sign up, we will select people," Councilmember Will Jawando, one of the lead sponsors of the pilot program, said. 

The hope is it will help hundreds of people advance themselves and their families.

"$800 can make the difference between paying rent or not, having food on the table or not," Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz said. "But also, whether or not a young person can participate in an after-school program, or engage in college access and readiness programs that can improve their families."

Stockton, California first piloted a guaranteed basic income program starting in 2019, giving $500 a month to 125 families.

Alongside Montgomery County, Alexandria and Arlington are also launching similar plans for people like Shay Holliman, who drives ride-share in addition to a full-time job. 

"You can't pay your rent and you have to send your kids to school with nothing," Holliman told a reporter as Stockton was preparing to launch the program.

Advocates like former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang points out that Alaska, a state that trends conservative, has for years given all its residents $1,000 or $2,000 a year as a share of its oil revenues.

Michael Faulkender, a University of Maryland professor and former assistant treasury secretary in the Trump administration,  said he thinks the money should be tied to a work requirement. 

"At a time when we have a near-record number of job openings -- 10.4 million of them nationwide, 210,000 in the state of Maryland -- should we be providing income to people and not requiring that they work?" he asked. 

Faulkender thinks Montgomery County would be better served by giving low-income residents an earned income tax credit.

"People don't have to worry about anybody living on $800 a month and not working," County Executive Marc Elrich said. "If they can't live on what they're making now and they're working, $800 it isn't going to take away a job."

An academic study of the Stockton program found employment went up and stress went down. People paid off debt and spent the money mostly on necessities, the study found. 

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