Dallas may consider $1 million plan to give hundreds of low-income families cash

As part of the city’s new racial equity plan, city officials are developing a new program to give $250 a month for a year to 325 families living in historically underserved areas starting sometime next year.

CORRECTION, 2:35 p.m. Sept. 28, 2022: An earlier version of this story stated that the $1 million proposal was approved. It has yet to be considered by the City Council.

Hundreds of low-income families could receive $250 a month for a year starting sometime in 2023 under a new Dallas proposal.

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved carrying over at least $20 million in excess sales tax revenue into the upcoming budget for racial equity-related initiatives. A proposal unveiled to the City Council on Friday suggests using $1 million of that for a pilot program giving unrestricted money to 325 families living in historically underserved areas.

There are at least 30 other cities across the country that have programs which give money directly to residents as a way to decrease poverty gaps, according to Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. The group is an advocacy coalition of more than 80 mayors nationwide that have thrown their support behind the concept.

The group says that since the COVID-19 pandemic, such programs have helped stimulate local economies and keep families financially secure.

The network includes only three mayors from Texas: Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Austin and Houston in May announced their own yearlong programs with 85 households in the capital city getting $1,000 a month and 110 Houstonians getting monthly $375 payouts.

San Antonio in 2020 launched a pilot meant to give 1,000 low-income families $400 every three months over two years.

Several details of the income program still need to be developed and finalized, including the criteria for who would be eligible, according to Dallas Assistant City Manager Liz Cedillo-Pereira and community care office director Jessica Galleshaw. The city would likely partner with a nonprofit to administer the program and as part of it would also direct participants to social services for additional support.

Cedillo-Pereira and Galleshaw said the initial goal is to give money to 500 families by the end of July 2024. They said the city would need to put in more money to get there. The City Council has not yet voted on the plan.

“We see this as a way of investing in Dallas families and residents,” Cedillo-Pereira told The Dallas Morning News. “We know that when families have more money in their pocket to be able to live and survive, that’s a benefit for everyone.”

The guaranteed income program and 12 other initiatives could be financed with the $20 million in sales tax money. Transferring the excess sales tax is part of several amendments the council made Wednesday to the budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 even as the council prepares to OK the budget for the next year on the same day.

The sales tax transfer was proposed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax and comes after several council members raised concerns also in August over how the city would pay for accomplishing goals laid out in the city’s racial equity plan.

Broadnax said the money is meant to be one-time funding for projects the city has identified as falling under the goals of the racial equity plan. Several are projected to take years to accomplish.

Some of the other initiatives that could be financed by the $20 million include paying for park, street and other infrastructure improvements in majority Black and Hispanic areas of the city that have been historically underserved like in Joppa, Cadillac Heights, Pleasant Grove and West Dallas. Those projects could get nearly $14.8 million from the sales tax money.

The racial equity plan was adopted by the City Council in August and is meant to be a guide for all city departments to use to make sure policies have measurable goals that work to decrease systemic racial barriers impacting residents in housing, public safety, environmental justice and other quality of life areas. Hundreds of progress measures have been established to target historically disadvantaged communities through the city’s new racial equity plan.

According to 2021 census estimates, 18% of Dallas’ 1.3 million residents live in poverty. Of the four largest Texas cities, only Houston has a higher percentage — nearly 20% of its 2.3 million residents.

But the $250 a month likely won’t be enough to address root causes of poverty for city residents, said Dean Stansel, an economist and a research associate professor at Southern Methodist University.

It’s better to have the extra money than not, Stansel said, but most households will likely continue to face many of the same obstacles they already face without more support.

“It doesn’t fix the problem it’s designed to fix,” Stansel said. “But the larger philosophical question for me is, is this a legitimate role for government? I don’t think it is.”

Galleshaw said the program is only meant to supplement, not replace sources of income. It could come in handy to help pay for rent, groceries or other cost of living expenses.

“This is our way of putting money where our mouth is and putting actual investments behind the goals in our racial equity plan,” she said. “We’re hoping this will allow families that are struggling to be able to use this money in ways that will help them the best.”

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