Virginia’s Loudon County board allocates $2M to guaranteed-income pilot program for low-income residents

Virginia’s Loudon County board allocates $2M to guaranteed-income pilot program for low-income residents
Virginia’s Loudon County board allocates $2M to guaranteed-income pilot program for low-income residents

By Jess Kirby

See original post here.

The Board of Supervisors voted 6-2 May 23 to allocate $2 million for a pilot “economic mobility” program for low-income county residents.

Proposed by Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling), the program would distribute monthly payments to residents at or below 30% of the area median income. In Loudoun County, 30% AMI is $32,550 for a one-person household or $46,450 for a family of four.

Recipients would be able to use the funds for groceries, rent, paying down debt, or anything else they need, Saines said, calling the program a “steroid shot” for families in need of assistance. He added that the money would also “potentially be spent here in our local economy to stimulate our local businesses and help our store owners sell their goods and services here in the county.”

“I believe this initiative is the right approach to help many of our families and individuals here in Loudoun County,” he said.

County staffers will come back to the finance committee by September with a plan to implement the program. Loudoun’s program would be based on other guaranteed-income programs implemented in Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria.

The $2 million in funding for the program comes from the county’s expected surplus for fiscal 2024, but the funds will be dedicated now rather than waiting until the board’s December fund balance discussion.

Saines initially proposed using $1.67 million of what remains of the county’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to fund the program, which would have delayed a $1.5 million request from Round Hill for a new water tower. Supervisors instead voted to fund Round Hill’s request using ARPA money.

Several members of New Virginia Majority asked supervisors to approve the pilot program and shared how the monthly income would help them.

“I currently have to pay $2,100 a month plus bills above our rent, including $90 for a non-essential internet service each month,” Leesburg resident Maria Rojas said. She spoke in Spanish and Sofia Saiyed, the campaign coordinator for New Virginia Majority Loudoun, translated. “And we are suffering from high rent costs every time we renew our lease. We’re coming out of winter and still have reduced hours in our jobs.”

“We would like you to continue supporting these programs and make them permanent because there is a great need in the community due to excessively high rents for our most vulnerable families,” Rojas said. She also asked supervisors to “take into account our immigrant community and to be more flexible” in the program’s eligibility requirements.

Most supervisors were supportive of the program, citing the expected benefits to low-income residents and the results of other similar programs across the country.

“It’s pretty impressive how (these programs) change people’s lives, and they really help them get on their feet, have the ability to maybe buy a suit to go to a job interview, or just be able to pay the rent so they’re not stressed out,” Vice Chair Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) said.

But Chair Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) and Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) were against funding the program because county staff have not yet come up with a defined plan for it. Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) was absent for the meeting.

“I kind of think allocating the money before we’ve seen the program — and then not sending it to fund balance and just simply allocating it now — is highly unusual for us and not something we typically do,” Letourneau said.

Letourneau was also skeptical of the program overall. He said he would prefer “a more targeted approach to assistance,” like rental assistance. “That way it’s very clear on how it’s being used.”

Randall said that while she supports “economic mobility” programs in general, Saines’ proposal “feels like a great idea without any specificity to it yet.”

“This is so nonspecific at this time, and it’s actually bothering me a little bit,” she said. “Since we’ve been up here, I’ve been listening very closely. I have heard everything from ‘It’s used for businesses’ to ‘It could be used for education’ to now we’re buying a suit and a computer. I don’t know what we’re doing here.”

“It doesn’t make much sense to me to attach a specific amount to something that is this vague,” she added.

Based on similar programs that other localities have done, Saines said, “I think this is the correct amount to allocate for right now. We have the funding to do so. And from conversations it seems like everybody’s in support of it.”

On May 23, supervisors also voted to allocate $3.2 million in remaining ARPA funds for other programs and projects: the Round Hill water tower, a wastewater treatment system in Hillsboro, transit system marketing and training initiatives, flood control measures in Howardsville, a new drinking water storage tank in Aldie, and a mentorship program through Launch Loudoun.

Round Hill’s water tower will serve 1,826 households, according to a staff report, and 84% of the town’s water customers live outside town limits.

The water tower is already funded at $3.7 million in fiscal 2025 through the county’s Capital Improvement Program. But a recent cost estimate showed the tower will cost $5.7 million — up from a $4.2 million estimate last year, according to a letter from the Round Hill Town Council.

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