More guaranteed income pilots launch as Chicago wraps enrollment for ‘Resilient Communities’ program

As of September, officials said, 5,000 Chicago residents have received at least one $500 payment. They will continue to get $500 a month for 12 months.

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Yessenia Cervantes-Vázquez, a lead community health worker with Rush Community Health Center, photographed at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in the Pilsen neighborhood on Saturday, April 30, 2022.

Yessenia Cervantes-Vázquez, a lead community health worker with Rush Community Health Center, is shown in April helping residents apply for the Chicago Resilient Communities pilot program in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Alma Battle waited for weeks to hear if she would receive a $500 monthly benefit for 12 months from the city of Chicago.

When June passed, the 89-year-old said she figured she likely was not among the 5,000 people selected for the city’s Resilient Communities pilot.

“It was unfortunate, but there was nothing I could do,” Battle said recently by phone. “With the economy the way it is now, I need car repairs, and it really is a difficult time. I just have to go with the flow as best I can.”

She was among thousands who applied earlier this year to receive a $500 monthly benefit, part of a guaranteed income program the city is testing. Four months after the application window closed, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office recently announced that all 5,000 recipients had received at least one monthly payment.

The city’s announcement comes as other government agencies get ready to start similar guaranteed income programs. In Evanston, officials accepted applications for a similar program that will select 150 residents who will receive $500 for a year. Cook County will start accepting applications next month for its pilot program providing 3,250 residents with $500 a month for two years.

City officials had initially said they wanted the payments to be distributed in late May to the recipients, chosen through a lottery process. Some payments were distributed in July through direct deposits to bank accounts or prepaid credit cards.

Most recipients, about 71%, are women. About 68% of all recipients identify as Black, according to statistics the city recently released. Nearly 24% are Latino, and about 16% of the recipients are white. About 3% of the people receiving the monthly benefit are Asian.

The median household income for participants in Chicago’s pilot program is about $14,000 a year, according to the city. More than half of recipients described themselves as caregivers for someone else.

And about 9% of those receiving the benefit are experiencing housing instability or homelessness.

“Many Chicagoans face an uphill battle as they recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, and direct cash assistance can support the flexibility they need to truly move forward,” according to a prepared statement by Brandie Knazze, commissioner of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.

Cook County officials are accepting applications from Oct. 6 to Oct. 21 for the “Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot,” which will select 3,250 residents to receive $500 a month for two years, according to a news release announcing the application details.

“A guaranteed income is part of a critical part of our mission to infuse equity into county government, because we know that income inequality has been drawn by racial lines in this country,” said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president. “Across the board, in terms of household wealth, homeownership, access to credit, the list goes on, Black and brown people are often born with less financially and disproportionally locked out of opportunities to build more.”

County officials are aiming for the first payments to be distributed in December. They are contracting with GiveDirectly — the same organization the city hired — to administer the program. GiveDirectly will also work with AidKit to issue the monthly benefit.

The county’s pilot program, open to people with any immigration status, will have income requirements. A single person must make $33,975 or less; income for a family of five must be less than $81,175, according to the county. About 36% of county residents will be eligible, Preckwinkle said during a recent news conference.

Harish Patel, director of the advocacy group Economic Security for Illinois, said county officials already are looking into making the program permanent, and he would like other agencies to do the same.

The additional cash residents will receive is meant to supplement other social services, the goal being to help individuals get out poverty, he said. With inflation driving up food prices, Patel said the monthly benefit also could offset those costs.

“We know that $500, at least from our perspective, is not enough,” Patel said. “But it’s allowing a lot more families to plan to either get a full-time job, or buy their first car that becomes their wealth, or allows them to possibly go get an interview, or do something else that is a long-term solution, while they have this support for a year or two.”

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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