Pilot Program Providing Cash Assistance To Chicago and Cook County Residents Launches

Chicago and Cook County leaders have launched two pilot programs offering a monthly cash supplement of $500 to randomly selected residents to offset their cost of living. These programs are the first in the nation to provide this level of support for residents outside of public assistance. 


“We saw that low-income communities of color experienced the worst health and economic effects,” Cook County Board of Commissioners president Toni Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We believed then and we believe now those disparities were unacceptable.”

In Chicago, mayor Lori Lightfoot has launched the Resilient Communities Pilot, providing 5,000 city residents with guaranteed additional income for a year in August. In Cook County, a separate program, known as the Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot, began in December, supporting 3,250 residents in the suburbs outside of Chicago. 

The funds for both programs came from the American Rescue Plan, a 2021 pandemic relief law. GiveDirectly, an organization that assists people in developing nations, administers the funds to Chicago and Cook County residents. 

To be placed in the program’s lottery, Chicago and Cook County residents had to apply. To be eligible, the household income must be 250 percent of the federal poverty line. For a single person, the maximum income could be no more than $39,975; for a family of three, $57,575; and for a family of five, $81,175 or less. In addition, groups such as homeless people, caregivers and veterans were given preference within the lottery.  

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for us to be bold and innovative,” Brandie Knazze, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, told Yahoo News. 

A Political Move To Support Americans In Need 

For Lightfoot, spearheading such a program is a rallying cry for other Democratic leaders to follow suit, especially in states that are Republican with metropolitan areas that are predominantly Democratic. 

In cities such as Shreveport, Louisiana, Columbia, South Carolina and Birmingham, Alabama, political leaders have not been so ready to offer programs such as those created by Chicago and Cook County leadership, as it might ruffle the feathers of rural, conservative neighbors. 

“These are the same people that didn’t want to expand health care, and look at the number of people in their communities, these ruby-red communities, that are suffering,” Lightfoot told Yahoo News. “These are the same people, frankly, that are attacking the very core of our democracy, demonizing being different, being the other, based upon your religion, your creed, who you love, your gender identity.”

However, the National Association of Counties will be following suit, announcing a collective of county-level programs that will be available in 50 cities nationwide. 

“What’s happened in this country historically is these ideas get tried out at the local level, in cities and counties and states, and when there’s enough momentum, they get adopted by the federal government,” Lightfoot said. “So that’s what we’re hoping will happen.”

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