Chicago and Cook County are launching guaranteed income programs that will provide more than 8,000 residents with $500 a month, no strings attached.
While applications for Cook County residents will open in the fall, residents chosen for Chicago’s Resilient Communities program have already started receiving monthly payments.
According to city data, 176,000 people applied for the program. Among these candidates:
• 64% live below the poverty line
• 68% identified as black or African American
• 70% of candidates identified as a woman
• 17% mentioned having a disability
• 9% indicated that they live in insecure housing or are homeless
Audra Wilson, president and CEO of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said providing unlimited cash supplements is a crucial aspect of the program.
“Direct cash payments make a huge difference for families. It gives individuals the agency to invest in what best suits their needs, whether they’re starting a business, keeping a roof over their heads, feeding their families or caring for children,” Wilson said. . “It’s very different from many existing social safety net programs that have work requirements or can suddenly eliminate assistance when individuals receive a modest increase in income.”
The possibility of increased income negatively affecting participants was one of many complications considered by the Chicago Department of Family Support and Services, which is responsible for administering the program.
Department Commissioner Brandie Knazze said her staff lobbied for waivers for SNAP and SSI recipients.
“We really thought about… the cliff of benefits. We didn’t want anyone to say, “You know what, I could use $500, but I’m on another social service program. And so I don’t want to lose my SNAP benefits or my SSI,” Knazze said. “Fifty-six percent of those who applied also had SNAP benefits…we learned that other cities were excluding these populations because they didn’t want them to be negatively affected.”
Knazze said ensuring news of the program reached those most in need was a difficult task.
“One of the first things we wanted to do was to make sure the program targeted caregivers and parents. We know that during the pandemic many people have had to take time off from their regular duties to stay home to take online classes or care for loved ones,” she said. “But we knew that on top of that there were hard-to-reach populations that we wanted to reach. So we wanted to make sure that those who were undocumented, domestic workers or people who didn’t speak English as their first language, that we really reached out to them.
These messengers were a number of outreach partner organizations, including the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. CEO Nicole Robinson described how the YWCA carried out outreach activities for the pilot.
“There are so many people in Chicago who, even before the pandemic, were dealing with job loss, food insecurity, housing insecurity, child care and it’s stressful . And what this program does is not just fill the gaps in those areas, but it actually provides some relief,” Robinson said. “We were in the community, boots on the ground, and had a coalition of hundreds of partners across this city, all committed and unified around this one idea of making sure residents were in the know. So that means we were in churches and faith-based institutions, we were in hair salons, we were in laundromats, we were door-to-door, working with many partners to spread the word.
Guaranteed income programs like those in Chicago and Cook County have the potential to significantly advance racial and economic justice, Wilson said.
“The concept of guaranteed income has been championed by civil rights leaders for decades, including Dr. King himself, as a solution to fight racial and economic justice. And it’s a very bold but simple approach to tackling poverty and reducing economic insecurity,” Wilson said. “Across the country, these pilot projects have…measurably improved people’s financial stability. But I think it’s important to note that the launch of this pilot project in the third largest city in the country, at the same time as the Cook County Guaranteed Income pilot project, which is launching the second most populous county in the countries, is extremely important as these joint pilot projects can promote national dialogue on guaranteed income and can help shape broader national initiatives.