Doctors Argue Cash Transfer Programs Could Fight Violence

Guaranteed income or cash transfer programs have often been framed as resources to help pay for unexpected medical bills or rent.

But now, a group of doctors are pitching the program as not only an anti-poverty strategy, but an anti-violence strategy. They argue that implementing these programs could actually reduce different forms of violence in the city.

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The city approved a plan in its 2022 budget promising $500 a month to 5,000 low-income households for one year.  Applications for the program will be open in April.

See: Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot on

Dr. Tanya Zakrison came to this conclusion through her job as a professor of surgery and director of critical trauma research at UChicago Medicine. Zakrison said the number one mechanism of injury that the trauma center sees is firearm violence — which is unusual compared to other centers.

“A lot of it is related to the survival economy, where people are really living on the edge day to day,” Zakrison said. “You see how economic inequality has a role to play in the direct violence that we see every day.”

This marginalization can also lead to social distress that puts people in positions to engaged in activities they otherwise wouldn’t, said Dr. Eric Reinhart, a resident physician at Northwestern University and an anthropologist and a psychoanalyst at Harvard University.

“I see patients every single day who are engaged in violence either as victims or perpetrators and often both.” Reinhart said. “And they don’t want to be involved in these things, but their own capacity to regulate their life is severely limited by economic marginalization.”

Implementing cash transfer programs could allow people to live lives “they actually want to pursue,” said Reinhart.

However, these programs are not meant to address larger systemic issues on their own.

“If you give somebody $500, but you’re not regulating the cost of housing increases by several hundred dollars, you’ve negated the benefit,” Reinhart said. “It’s very important that cash transfer programs are not to be seen as a cure-all but be seen as a supplement to a broader investment in strong public systems.”

This approach helps redefine public safety. Dr. Lea Hoefer, a general surgery resident at UChicago Medicine, said the idea of what public safety is today isn’t working as intended, when looking at rates of incarceration. These impacts are compounded by the lack of jobs for people who have been incarcerated, once they return to the community, leaving little room for economic growth.

Instead, Hoefer said public safety should take a more comprehensive approach to public service, focusing on needs like safe, affordable housing, clean water, access to education and employment opportunities.

“That’s what we want to focus on, is that safety means building communities up overtime—and all communities, through our city, throughout our nation and around the world,” Hoefer said.

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