Chicago’s test to hand $500 a month to low-income families stalls

Chicago’s test to hand $500 a month to low-income families stalls

Quick relief was promised for select needy families in Chicago, but it now looks like it will be summer before any of the $500-a-month checks are issued. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the delay is to prevent abuse.

Months after launching one of the largest guaranteed income pilot programs in the nation, Chicago residents have yet to see a single dollar of the $31.5 million promised by city leaders.

The earliest qualifying residents could see a check in the mail is summer 2022, sources in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration told WTTW. The city is in the process of requesting bids from outside organizations to run the pilot program to give 5,000 families $500 a month for a year.

In a departure from her previously urgent rhetoric, Lightfoot is asking patience from Chicago’s lowest-income residents as city administrators weigh how to implement the novel policy and finalize the eligibility criteria.

“We have been working with members of city council listening to advocates to make sure that we craft a criteria that is going to reach those people that are most in need,” Lightfoot said when pressed about the program’s sluggish rollout. She asked Chicagoans to “stay tuned” for more information.

Chicago’s first guaranteed income pilot was passed in October and will use funds from the American Rescue Plan. Officials in the Lightfoot administration said they are purposefully taking their time to root out potential fraud or abuse, saying they want to create a program that can continue for years after the pilot period ends.

Lightfoot touted the policy as safeguarding thousands of struggling Chicago families from financial ruin in the wake of COVID-19.

“Right now, in this moment, with so many people suffering, in pain and worried about financial ruin, this is what we must do to make sure that these families don’t slip into the abyss,” Lightfoot said as she urged council members to pass the policy Oct. 27.

Northwest side Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th Ward, championed a similar basic income proposal earlier in 2021. He said he wants households considered for the program to report income at or below 300% of federal poverty guidelines, with priority for Chicago Public Schools families.

While Villegas has voiced general support for Lightfoot’s policy, he has expressed frustration with the program’s sluggish implementation. He said delays leave residents struggling.

“I’m happy that they’re trying to get a request for proposal and get this thing going but it has to be expedited or we’re going to continue seeing people suffering,” Villegas told WTTW.

Quick relief will be available in about six months. Lightfoot and city leaders are being careful because nothing is more permanent than a temporary government program.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!