Cook County’s basic income pilot: 184,000+ applicants, just 3,250 spots

The Cook County Promise pilot program is the latest pilot in the Chicago area that will give selected residents $500 a month for two years with no strings attached. The deadline to apply is Friday.

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A sign promoting the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot in front of Saint Eulalia Church in Maywood.

A sign promoting the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income pilot program sits in front of St. Eulalia parish in Maywood.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Sun-Times

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Takiyah Franklin continued working as a phlebotomist even as she worried about the possibility of spreading COVID-19 to her own children.

“I couldn’t take off,” she said. “I had to work.”

Franklin, 46, of Oak Park, is among the thousands applying for the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income pilot, which will provide 3,250 residents with $500 a month for two years with no strings attached.

Franklin said she would like to use the extra income to finish community college courses she’s taking to transition into a new career while also allowing the single mother to spend more time with her 3-year-old and 7-year-old sons. She quit her job as a phlebotomist and works part-time as a home care aide.

“I think that plays a big part — the parents being at home making sure the kids have a home-cooked meal, making sure we read to them, spending that quality time with your kids,” Franklin said. “That’s the important thing because right now, the things that are going on, a lot of kids aren’t getting shown love.”

Takiyah Franklin and her two young sons stand in front of St. Eulalia parish after Franklin recently registered for Cook County’s Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot.

Takiyah Franklin and her two young sons stand in front of St. Eulalia parish after Franklin recently registered for Cook County’s Promise Guaranteed Income pilot program.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

She and her two sons were among nearly two dozen people at Quinn Center of St. Eulalia parish in suburban Maywood who recently got help filling out applications. But their chances to be selected via a lottery could be slim.

Cook County has received 184,000 applications as of Monday, according to county officials. The pilot, which is funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, is taking applications online, promisepilot.cookcountyil.gov, until 11:59 p.m. Friday.

A majority — 72% — of the people who have applied as of Monday, identified as women, and 64% listed their race as Black. About 24% of applicants identified as Hispanic, and an additional 19% as white, according to Cook County officials.

Half of those who have applied indicated they’ve gone to an emergency room within the last year, according to county officials. About 28% of applicants have delayed some form of medical care because of finances, and about 22% don’t have health care insurance.

To apply, individuals must be 18 years old or older and remain within Cook County during the duration of the program. Immigrants, including those who are undocumented, are eligible for the program, according to the county.

An individual’s household income must be at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, meaning $33,975 a year for a single person, according to Cook County. For a family of four, the household income must be $69,375 or less.

The online application will ask participants for an email or mobile number to reach them, though people can also provide contact information for a relative, friend or community organization instead. Applicants will also be required to upload a government-issued identification card that includes their photo or a selfie.

Applicants can also — though they’re not initially required to — upload documents to prove their residency and annual income. Selected participants can also provide those documents after the lottery takes place, according to the county.

Kristen K. Mighty, executive director of the Quinn Center of St. Eulalia, and Romiesha Tucker, of Housing Forward, are organizing another application clinic while also trying to combat misinformation about the program. Some people thought everyone who applied would get $500, though recipients will be selected in a lottery.

Kristen Mighty, director of the Quinn Center of St. Eulalia, assisted in an event recently helping residents register for the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot.

Kristen Mighty, director of the Quinn Center of St. Eulalia, assisted in an event recently helping residents register for the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income pilot.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The number of people in line may illustrate the anxiety people feel over the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic and inflation, Mighty said. The parish’s weekly food pantry has seen an uptick in demand.

“People are in a rush to be that first person in line because they are afraid that so many people need so much help that it’s going to run out,” Mighty said.

George Hicks, 70, of Austin, was among those who received help to apply for the pilot. Hicks, who works a part-time job in retail, said he would like to use the $500 a month to pay bills and for the upkeep of his car.

Hicks said he wanted to try his luck at the lottery, though he knows the odds of being selected might be slim.

“I’d just go day by day,” Hicks said about what he would do if he wasn’t selected.

George Hicks stands in front of St. Eulalia after Hicks registered for Cook County’s Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot.

George Hicks stands in front of St. Eulalia after registering for Cook County’s Promise Guaranteed Income pilot.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Craig Armstrong, 57, of Broadview, moved into his own apartment in July after being unhoused for years, he said. He would like to use the monthly benefit to furnish his place, purchase essentials, like clothing, and he wants to become a truck driver. For now, he’s working on improving his health while he receives Social Security disability benefits.

“Sleeping outside, it destroys the human body — especially in the cold,” Armstrong said. “And now I’m trying to, well, I’m making my way back.”

He said he feels “great” about his chances, and he likes the idea of a lottery.

“There’s one thing that politicians can’t do — they can’t fix it,” Armstrong said.

In Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, workers from Rush University Medical Center helped Luz Maria Corcoles and others fill out applications in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Corcoles, 74, said she would like to be selected because she’s worried about how she’s going to pay her property taxes and make repairs to her Pilsen home. She and her husband live on a fixed income from Social Security benefits. An adult grandson recently moved in with them after her daughter died, she said.

“I have my windows that, with the cold coming, I’m trying to figure out how to cover them so the cold air won’t get in,” Corcoles said in Spanish. “I can’t buy new windows; they are expensive, and I can’t pay for it. I have to find a way to improve things.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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