Experimental program will present $500 per thirty days to 200 Pittsburgh residents

A program that could be launched before the end of the year would give a $500 monthly payment to 200 low-income Pittsburgh residents for two years with no strings attached.

“It allows people to use the money in the way they need to improve their lives and the lives of their household members,” said Michele Abbott, manager of OnePGH’s Assured Cash Experiment program.

City Council is considering allocating $2.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the program, as recommended by Mayor Bill Peduto. It was introduced to council this week and will be considered for approval once it clears committee discussion.

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Other cities are using their some of their federal allocations to fund similar programs, Peduto’s Chief of Staff Dan Gilman said.

The ARPA funding would bolster $100,000 committed to the city by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Another $500,000 grant from Dorsey through Mayors for a Guaranteed Income requires a local match, Abbott said.

OnePGH, the stand-alone non profit created in April by the Peduto administration to oversee the contributions the city’s nonprofit sector provides to the city, will administer the program and Abbott is its first hire, she said.

Abbott was previously a policy researcher at the RAND Corp., the think tank that has offices in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.

“I’m so excited to be involved. People talk about long-term financial stability and how cities can be the proving ground (for it),” Abbott said.

In July 2020, Peduto joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a group of about a dozen municipal leaders who are testing guaranteed basic income programs.

Pittsburgh is still working on the details of its program, but it is expected to involve 200 people who will received the $500 monthly payments for two years.

One hundred of the people will be low-income Black women, a group highlighted as facing drastic inequities in a 2019 report done by the University of Pittsburgh at the behest of the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

RELATED: Report offers stark picture of inequalities by gender, race in Pittsburgh

The other 100 people will be families of any demographic who meet low-income requirements and live in low-income neighborhoods in the city, Abbott said.

Some of the participants will be people who are clients of the Pittsburgh Financial Empowerment Center, a group that provides financial counseling to low-income residents. Others who may be eligible will receive a mailing once the program is launched.

Another 200 people won’t receive the payments, but will be part of a randomized control group.

Over regular interviews and surveys over the two years of the program the financial stability of the participants will be tracked so it can be used as data to demonstrate the value of guaranteed basic income programs.

Abbott is working with the state Department of Human Services and other groups to figure out how to prevent those who are participating in the program from losing other benefits that are based on income.

“We’ll be working to get whatever waivers we can,” Abbott said.

The idea is to provide people with the cash they need and let them decide how to spend it, whether it’s for rent, food or to cover the cost of an emergency like a car repair or illness, Abbott said.

Participants spending won’t be regulated, but will be anonymously tracked so when the program ends in two years, there will be data on how it was spent, Abbott said.

“The study will be looking at outcomes on financial stability, employment, food security and well being,” she said.

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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