Earlier this year, the Richmond city government announced a direct-cash aid program for residents. Since then, it has shown wonderful results: those in need have been able to evade eviction, stave off rising living costs, and even pull themselves out of homelessness.
The Family Crisis Fund follows in the footsteps of a program of the same name announced during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Robins Foundation joined hands with the city to seed $500,000 in matching contributions to aid families in need of financial relief.
Fairfax County has also been experimenting with a cash aid program, offering $750 a month to as many as 180 low-income families. This experiment has wrought the earth-upending conclusion that helping people in need is good, actually.
Cash aid programs are a testament to the reality that poverty is a vicious cycle that is virtually inescapable without aid. Cities around the country have been experimenting with it to varying degrees of success, but the overwhelming conclusion is simple: direct cash aid helps our most vulnerable.
These programs are generally very good, but there’s always room for improvement. The reality is that each of these programs follows the neoliberal mold and relies entirely upon means-testing to determine who is worthy of aid. This is an incredibly slippery slope, as any degree of means-testing opens Pandora’s neoliberal box, inviting absurdly granular qualifications that lock many out of the process (Kamala Harris’ word-salad solution to student debt comes to mind). The Fairfax County aid program, for example, needs an entire paragraph just to list the requirements, and that’s not even scratching the surface of what it actually looks like to navigate them. Even if people do qualify, though, there just isn’t enough money to go around–the 180 families that received aid were selected randomly, with many qualified applicants left hung out to dry.
Cash aid may be no panacea, but it is an unequivocally good thing. After all, any aid is better than none at all. Our only hope is that these programs are expanded with the funding needed to spread to more families in need now that they’ve proven to help.