Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office says residents should be learning exactly who will be eligible to apply for Chicago’s new guaranteed basic income program by the end of the month.
The city approved the plan in its 2022 budget three months ago, promising $500 a month to 5,000 low-income households for one year. It would be the nation’s largest test of a guaranteed basic income program. Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) spearheaded the effort for guaranteed income in Chicago. He says plans are in motion to establish an eligibility criteria and application process, and he predicts the first checks by fall.
“It’s a little frustrating that it’s taken a long time,” Villegas said. “We started this effort last year, in February, having hearings and then passing and introducing an ordinance in April, so it is frustrating given the fact that the president and Congress acted so quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan and this pandemic has devastated Black and Brown families throughout the country.”
Several community-based organizations have already launched their own guaranteed income programs including Equity And Transformation in Chicago, which provides $500 per month to 30 post-incarcerated residents of Garfield Park.
“We designed the Chicago Future Fund, and it was designed essentially to alleviate the burdens of post incarceration. A number of our residents, a number of our people in the communities that we represent in West Garfield Park have a number of barriers,” said Richard Wallace, founder and executive director of Equity And Transformation. “A lot of those are permanent punishments or collateral consequences, and so we wanted to see if the direct cash payments will impact that and allow them to actually achieve some of the goals that they have, and so the project is going great.”
The Economic Security Project advocates for guaranteed income saying “cash is one of the most direct and effective ways to provide financial stability to those who most need it.”
Co-Chair Dorian Warren says direct cash programs should also supplement other safety net and financial assistance programs.
“It’s not either or in our view, we think we need everything on the table. We need a strong and robust safety net, of course workers need higher wages in the city and in the country,” Warren said. “And so direct cash, as we’ve learned from experiments over the last several years, is the best way to get money into the hands of people who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Warren said direct cash payments allow people to pay utilities and other bills, purchase food and buy school supplies for their children.
“We know that it is effective,” Warren said. “The data is pretty overwhelming on this question and it’s time to really move forward with this pilot program.”
Warren says he believes the pandemic has shifted how people feel about guaranteed basic income, and are more willing to accept it as a government program, pointing to stimulus checks and the child tax credit as examples of direct cash assistance.
In a partial statement to WTTW, the mayor’s office said “We are working regularly with aldermen, advocates, policy experts, and people who have experienced poverty to ensure the program reaches all four corners of the city, and in ways that will improve quality of life and economic insecurity.”
Wallace says the city has reached out to him for advice and guidance considering his organization launched its own guaranteed income program.
For Villegas, the program is personal, which is why he’s made it a priority.
“It’s a top priority for me because I’m actually a recipient of a program that was similar, survival death benefits from Social Security,” Villegas said. “When my dad died when I was young, my mom got a stipend for both me and my brother until we were 18, and that was a game changer. [It] allowed my mom the ability to work with dignity, making sure that she was home after work to make sure we did our homework, you know, raising two boys in the city, it can be very challenging. And I can tell you that she made sure that she was there to take care of us, and it was because of that stipend which allowed her the flexibility to take care of us, but also work with dignity.”