Arlington’s Guarantee: Unconditional cash for families in need

Image Arlington’s Guarantee: Unconditional cash for families in need

Did you know: “Guaranteed income” and Universal Basic Income (UBI) are not the same? As a guaranteed income pilot, Arlington’s Guarantee is not promoting UBI. Learn more about the key differences here.

Arlington’s Guarantee is a new guaranteed income pilot that aims to provide cash relief of $500 to 200 low income working families in Arlington every month for 18 months. Please note: This program is not open for referrals from the general public. The 200 participants have been randomly selected from a group meeting the eligibility criteria.

Launched in partnership with Arlington County Department of Human Services, this new initiative equips families with funds that can be used for whatever is needed most in real time– making ends meet, dealing with an emergency, paying off debt, pursuing education or employment goals, college savings for kids, or allowing parents more time with their children and less time away from home in a second job.

The case for guaranteed income nationally and in Arlington is undeniable. Just over 24,000 people, or over 10,000 households in Arlington, make under 30% of the area median income (AMI), or about $45,600 for a family of four. Working low income families rely on a combination of earned income, public benefits, and community supports to survive. With even a minor rise in earnings, these families can lose their eligibilities for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation, and housing, meaning the worker has to refuse raises and promotions that could ultimately leave their family worse off. This is known as the The Cliff Effect. Arlington’s Guarantee has secured local and state agency commitments to ensure the monthly cash payments do not affect benefits and subsidies eligibilities, allowing these families more flexibility without worrying about losing their benefits.

September 2022 marked the 1-year anniversary of Arlington’s Guarantee: To celebrate this milestone, we hosted a one year anniversary webinar with local and national leaders from the guaranteed income movement. Additionally, five Arlington’s Guarantee participants shared their stories and experiences in the pilot so far. Watch the panel recording here or at the button below, and explore the participant stories below.

arlington's guarantee


The County’s vision is that Arlington is “a diverse and inclusive world-class urban community… in which each person is important.”

The participants of Arlington’s Guarantee represent that vision. We value them, and they belong here. Meet eleven participants who have generously shared a small part of their story and what their experience has been in the pilot so far.

Unless otherwise noted, stock images and pseudonyms are used to protect participant identities.



Daniel, who wanted to share his real name, is the 12th child of a long-time Arlington family. His mom was born in 1921 and raised her family here in what was the Butler Homes neighborhood (now Penrose). He was actually born in a DC hospital, because Arlington Hospital was segregated when he was born. Daniel is a father of three who now works as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist for people who have substance abuse and mental health challenges; and he is looking forward to being hired by Arlington County in that capacity.

A returning citizen, he feels blessed because “God has given me the opportunity to make my latter years better than my former years in order for me to be in a position to do something for others.” He’s appreciated getting some coaching on realizing his future goals from Phill at OAR.

Daniel continues, “I’m a volunteer here in Arlington in multiple things. Every day is a good day – a blessed day – because I am able to actually give. I want to take college courses on the professional development side and will be looking between George Mason and NOVA. I feel the extra cash is giving me a sense of security. It has taught me to be more conscientious and more structured about my spending. Upon my daughter’s graduation, I’ll be getting her some things that she needs for college.”



Helen is a 40-year-old mom of a 6-year-old daughter. Originally from East Africa, she is an educated and skilled woman with an administrative and marketing background. The notification that she would be receiving the unconditional cash came at an especially vulnerable time for Helen. It allowed her to regain the hope and energy she needed to find a new full-time job after having been laid off due to COVID.

“I was struggling. I was in fear 24/7 about the future and felt a failure as a mother. I reached out to the number that was provided. The amount of empathy and words of encouragement from the person who answered the call – Sahureli Mendoza Khoury (program advocate from Arlington’s Guarantee) – will always be in my heart. It gave me a fresh start without having to worry about the debt accumulated during the time I did not have a job after COVID-19.

Having this extra monthly income improved my wellbeing tremendously! I was able to be more present for my child because of the assistance. Something I did for us that can be considered as fun is that I bought a few books for my daughter and myself.

What makes Arlington feel like home is that I feel safe, supported, and uplifted.”



A native of Guatemala, Kiara moved to Arlington in 2018 to look for a new opportunity to improve her life. She lives with her 2-year old son. Kiara is focusing on finishing her medical assistant training program while working as a home health aide.

“Arlington’s Guarantee has allowed me to work and study at the same time while being a mom as well. It has helped me a lot in the sense of being able to improve myself professionally. When I received the extra cash income, I was very surprised, and I said ‘now I am going to study!’ One of my challenges is working overnight shifts because I work 24 hours sometimes. Obtaining my certificate would mean that I could work at the hospital, maybe with a more flexible schedule.

Arlington is the most helpful place for new people. Sometimes because of a language barrier, one has limitations, but in Arlington, they can find places to get assistance and free English classes at the community center.”



Bryanna is a 48-year-old mom, with a 9-year-old son who attends Hoffman Boston Elementary School and a 21-year-old daughter enrolled in Aveda Academy. She has a great deal of ambition for herself and her children. She is a self-employed yoga teacher and is starting up a new business called Good Soul Kitchen. She dreams of renting a building that she can cook out of.

“The extra cash allows me to be able to leverage my money differently with the relief of having an additional $500 to make, plan, and prepare for the future. Before, I had to cut off all extracurricular activities for my son because we have to pay the bills, and I’m running the business now, so we’re trying to make money and not lose money. As soon as I got this monthly cash, I was like, ‘I can sign him back up for soccer, I can sign him back up for piano, to keep that momentum going!’ Now, I have opportunities to focus on purchasing startup stuff for my business.”



A mother of two, Anita moved to Arlington from El Salvador in 1997 to escape violence and provide a better life for her children. She works full time as a cook and lives with her son who is a junior in Wakefield High School. She also has a 32-year-old son, who is currently completing a technical training. She finds tranquility in Arlington and wants peace of mind for her children. She is working with an Arlington’s Guarantee coach, taking steps toward her goal of adding a room to her place for supplemental income.

“I can now rest easy without thinking that I have to pay debts. I do not have the stress I had before. Something special I did was that I ate a very delicious meal. I always thought about it because I did not want to spend much money, but the third time I received the $500, I went with my son to eat at a buffet, and I felt really good!

When I hear the word ‘community,’ for me it is a united group. Just as the people who are helping in this program are doing – as a community – helping without knowing whom they are helping means they are uniting people.”


Bilal and Fouzia

Bilal and his wife, Fouzia are parents of 7-year-old twins and a 12-year-old.  “After I finished high school, I went to a technical school. Then I got a Diversity Visa through the lottery program, and I came to the United States from Morocco.  When I came here, I did a lot of jobs.  I did everything, delivery, restaurant, hotel, taxi, everything.” He and his wife have taken advantage of many opportunities to work on reaching their goals and providing for their children.

A few years ago, while Fouzia was home with their young twins, she began taking REEP classes to learn English. As she advanced in her English proficiency, they enrolled the twins in APS preschool. Fouzia then completed her GED and is now just one exam away from her A-Plus IT certification!

Bilal shares, “I got a Commercial Driver’s License 1 year 3 months ago.  I just got a new job and finished my training with Canada Dry as a driver. Most companies asked for experience, but this company didn’t.  And also, it’s local, so I can be with my family at night and weekends.  I wake up at 3am Monday to Friday with weekends off and in the summer, they start a rotation, and I get overtime pay.”

Bilal and Fouzia have used funds from Arlington’s Guarantee to pay off the tuition for Fouzia’s IT classes and to help with their bills. “This [guaranteed income] is a good system.  You can use the money to pay the credit card or the phone or my wife’s school.

“I’ve spent 20 years here. I have good neighbors, they help each other.  Arlington is a good community.”



Clay grew up in the historically black Arlington neighborhood of Halls Hill.  A 53-year-old father of 5 children, his life has been filled with highs and lows; from home ownership and running a successful business to jail, homelessness, and drug and alcohol dependency; from proud fatherhood and a 20-year relationship to estrangement from his family and a near-death health episode that left him unable to work. Today, he is holding down two jobs as a butcher at a local grocery store and a blackjack dealer at a nearby casino [Read Clay’s full story here or at the button below].

“I’m an Arlingtonian by birth. I went to Glebe Elementary, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown. I’ve seen Arlington evolve from the perspective of being an African American.”

“For me consistency and stability are things that I thrive on.  That consistent extra $500, I leaned on it. I knew it was going to end, but it just gave me the time and showed me consistency.  “I’ve been a resident of Arlington all my life, and when I was at my worst point, Arlington was there to help me.”



Luisa’s son, now seven, was born shortly after she moved to Virginia. She studied engineering in her native Bolivia, but now was starting all over again as a single mom. “As an undocumented immigrant, I feel like a ghost sometimes, because often we have to stay hidden.”

Nevertheless, she values Arlington for the opportunities that it provides her son, “Arlington is a good community because people try to help me, and everything is close by…it’s so helpful to have reduced fees so that I can afford to put my son in swimming lessons.”

The additional cash has enabled her to make ends meet and do something very special: “I sent my son to Bolivia to meet his grandparents during the holidays. I stayed back to work, but it meant a lot to me that he could go. He loved it.”

Luisa has now taken up swim lessons for herself so she and her son can swim together, “Even though things are hard, my son says he’s proud of me, and that he wants to be like me when he grows up. I love my son more than anything in life, so I’m going to be there for him.”



Reema arrived in six years ago and applied for asylum after emigrating from Egypt with her 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. She didn’t live in Arlington at first, but a neighbor told her that Arlington had great schools, so Reema made it a priority to move to provide a brighter future for her children.

“It was very hard at first. People know it’s difficult to find work as a recent immigrant, so they take advantage of you. I was working for $9 per hour with no benefits. We could only afford to rent a room, and my kids had to always stay in the bedroom because the landlord didn’t even allow them to play in the living room.”

But Reema and her children have found a welcoming community in Arlington. “When my kids go to school, they don’t feel left out. There are other kids that look like them. It’s very diverse. The teachers and other parents are helpful. We feel very safe here. That’s why I love Arlington.”

Reema currently works at a jewelry store but hopes to continue her education. Recently, Reema was accepted to a master’s program and will start school in the fall at George Mason University.

“I don’t give up. I work very hard to get a better life for myself and my kids…the [monthly] cash helps people have a decent life. It helps with food and essentials, but also helps families spend more time together.”



Makayla is a 40-year-old mother of 5. She sees her 9-year-old on weekends, is working to get custody of her 7-year-old, and stays connected to her older kids through phone and FaceTime. “I’m recovering from substance abuse. I’ve been clean for three years, four months and some days. I just got out of the drug court program. I graduated in January and recently got probation. I’m currently involved in GED classes.” The extra cash from Arlington’s Guarantee helps pay for the classes and her court fees.

She remembers having to rely on her 20-year-old for support. “It was embarrassing. I was pretty much living paycheck to paycheck, and I couldn’t take my son anywhere.” The extra cash has allowed her to pay her bills and to have some special moments with her 9-year-old son. They have enjoyed going into Gallery Place in DC, an art show in Clarendon and farmers markets. “And then recently, we went to this new place in the mall, a game room.”

Makayla works for Turbo Tax 35 hours per week, but “it’s hard to get the hours that you want. I have an interview set up for a dog daycare job, working at the front desk. I’m focusing on college and getting my credit back on track. Now, I’m thinking about more positive stuff. I’m thinking about where I’m going today. I’m focusing on college and on my career, what I want out of life. My ultimate goal is to have my own pit bull rescue because I love pit bulls. I believe they deserve a second chance. I also want to hire felons. They deserve a second chance as well.”

Getting connected to the community more while in Arlington’s Guarantee has been a real plus for Makayla. She’s been working with a community program to work on her credit repair. She was also selected to participate in a focus group on the County housing grants program, which is where she gets her rent support. “It was pretty neat to get to voice our opinion.”



Gideon was in his mid 20’s when came to Arlington from Ethiopia in 2005. He studied law and was working for World Vision when he got the opportunity to come to the United States. “I’ve been working many different jobs” in and near Arlington including a hardware store, a university, several bus systems, and a hotel where I worked as a driver most of the time.” Before having children, he worked a lot, often holding down three or four jobs at the same time.
Gideon now devotes much of his free time to the four young kids that he is raising with his wife who he met back home in Ethiopia. “I am a home daddy. I love my kids very much. My first goal is making my children mentally and physically successful. What they do when they grow up is their choice. The parents need to be there to guide the kids when little. They are going to be part of the American people for the future.”

For Gideon, Arlington’s Guarantee came at a crucial time. Because of the pandemic lockdown, “I was out of my second job. My wife at that time had a new baby and could not work. So we had only one job with kids and this chance with Arlington’s Guarantee was very helpful. There’s not any question about this. Money helps you with everything, when you have kids. I used it during the Corona time. You know, at the time there was a challenge. Now my wife is working part time.”

“My plan is to continue my IT, software engineering or something. I used to be going to NOVA. But you need to have time. I will continue soon and finish online. I have many dreams.

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PRIORITIZING power, dignity, and belonging

Just as important as income and assets are power and autonomy—people’s sense of control over the trajectory of their lives—and being valued in community—their sense of belonging and social capital. Guaranteed income touches each of these areas by bringing in extra income, allowing people choice over how to use it, and freeing up personal bandwidth to connect with others in the community. Guaranteed income:

Realigning resources to those who need it most
Participants are able to better pursue more gainful employment, educational goals, and save money
Instead of focusing on how people are spending the money, it asks how is it changing their lives

DESIGNING a targeted, holistic initiative

Arlington’s Guarantee supports 200 very low income households with children who receive Arlington County Housing Grants. Also included in our sample are 25 undocumented households and 25 individuals who are returning to the community after incarceration. Arlington’s Guarantee supports participants with:

for 200 randomly selected working families receiving Housing Grants, with carve outs for 25 undocumented households and 25 people returning from incarceration
with trained mobility coaches
as Arlington’s Guarantee income will not count as income toward benefits eligibilities

EVALUATING impacts and outcomes

A team of experts have designed a comprehensive data and evaluation plan that will position the pilot as a resource for future policy, philanthropy, and funding decisions, both locally and outside the region. Key components of the evaluation plan include:

are being randomly selected and evaluated over the pilot period in addition to the participants
is providing technical support on the evaluation design
are being conducted upon enrollment and every 6 months, capturing a range of quantitative and qualitative metrics

are being used in program evaluation, including surveys for comparison households and participants, and Arlington DHS administrative data systems


A GROWING national movement

The moral and economic mandate for guaranteed income, particularly for low income, vulnerable, and historically marginalized groups continues to be proven by pilot initiatives around the country. With its priorities, design, and comprehensive evaluation plan, Arlington’s Guarantee is primed to share its own stories of power, dignity, and belonging in the days to come.


Less anxiety and depression. More full time employment.

[Stockton Demonstration] A California city gave some residents $500 per month. After a year, the group wound up with more full-time jobs, less depression, and a number of other positive outcomes. Read the key findings.

“I’m able to pay all my bills.”

[Ms. Magazine] In Mississippi, a group of guaranteed income pilot participants were able to collectively pay off more than $10,000 in predatory debt. After 6 months in the pilot, not one participant reported the need to borrow money, down from 60% in the previous term. Read full story.

Op-Ed: What even a modest guaranteed income might have done for my mom

[Los Angeles Times] “The trauma of poverty was etched in her life in small ways and big. She battled high blood pressure and arthritis; she suffered depression and anxiety, her mind perpetually racing because we didn’t have the savings to weather an emergency.” Read full story.

Guaranteed Income and the Safety Net

[New America] “We will focus the attention of this piece not on the efficacy of a guaranteed income, but instead on how it might be implemented in complementary and additive ways to existing safety net supports. Specifically, we will examine what is known—and what is yet to be discovered—about the relationships between guaranteed income interventions and other social safety net policies.” Read full story.

What a National Guaranteed Income Could Look Like

[Bloomberg] “While localized projects are already showing signs of promise, they only cover a small fraction of the people in need. The ultimate goal for proponents of such pilots is to build toward a comprehensive federal guaranteed income program that could fill these gaps. But what would that look like?” Read full story.

Baby’s First Years: Early Findings Support Link Between Increased Income and Infant Brain Development

[Columbia University] The initial findings of a landmark study on child development indicate that providing a supplemental monthly compensation to low-income mothers changes the brain development of their infants. Read full story.

GET INVOLVED in the movement

Arlington’s Guarantee is one part of our multi-year economic mobility focus. Every dollar raised and invested in this work now will come back to this community’s most vulnerable many times over.

If you have questions about Arlington’s Guarantee or economic mobility in Arlington, please contact Anne Anne Vor der Bruegge, Director of Grants and Initiatives.

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economic mobility
Ensuring that people of all economic backgrounds can thrive is part of assuring Arlington’s vitality. Learn more
shared prosperity
This public-private partnership represents a re-design of the safety net system. Learn more
The Cliff Effect refers to the drop off in eligibility for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation, or housing that working low-income families experience with even a minor rise in earnings. Learn more