A lottery will determine which Chicagoans suffering from the economic catastrophe unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic will get $500 per month for a year as part of an effort to study whether a universal basic income could reduce poverty in the city, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.
Although the Chicago City Council earmarked $31.5 million for the program amid calls to establish a universal basic income to reduce inequity and crime in October, the effort has been slow to get off the ground as city officials search for a nonprofit organization to administer the program. Lightfoot has called it the largest test of a basic income program.
To be eligible for the cash assistance program, participants must live in Chicago, be older than 18, have experienced “hardship to due to COVID-19" and live in a household that earns no more than 250% of the federal poverty level, or $69,375 for a family of four, officials announced.
Applications will open in April, and Chicagoans can sign up online to be notified about the program at chicago.gov/cashpilot. City officials expect to have enough cash to help 5,000 families, and anticipate the number of applicants will significantly outstrip capacity.
Lightfoot included funds for the cash assistance program in her 2022 budget proposal, which was released in September, five months after Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) urged the City Council to launch an identical program. That proposal was blocked from advancing by members of the City Council’s Black Caucus, who demanded the program be postponed until the city approved a plan to pay reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans.
Lightfoot’s announcement included no indication that the program would include reparations for the descendants of enslaved people.
Chicago’s 2022 budget also sets aside $4.8 million to make one-time $500 payments to domestic workers who lost wages during the pandemic as well as $10.7 million to make one-time $500 payments to Chicagoans who did not receive federal cash assistance payments. That program excluded undocumented immigrants.
In addition, a new debt relief program for Chicagoans who racked up tickets is set to take effect on April 1 after being approved as part of the 2022 budget.
Motorists who earn less than 300% of the federal poverty line, or about $40,700 for an individual and $83,250 for a family of four, would only have to pay the tickets they’d received in the past three years, minus late penalties. Debt older than three years would be forgiven.
New tickets that those enrolled in the program receive could be resolved with a payment of 50% of the original penalty, and interest would not start accruing until December 2023, under the plan.
Motorists who get a ticket for failing to have a current city sticker or license plate registration sticker will also have a chance to avoid the penalty by purchasing the required sticker within 30 days.
The mayor’s announcement came more than two years after she vowed to end “poverty in Chicago in a generation” only to see the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic sweep Chicago, sickening thousands and forcing hundreds of businesses to close.
During that speech, Lightfoot vowed to push through a measure that requires landlords to give their tenants 90 days of notice before they evict them without cause, an increase from 30 days. The City Council approved that measure in June.
However, Lightfoot also vowed to push the City Council to adopt an ordinance to prohibits apartment owners from running criminal background checks on housing applicants until after the applicants have already been deemed qualified based on their income and credit history.
Lightfoot never introduced that measure, and has not mentioned it since.