Applications for Cook County’s $42 million direct cash assistance program will open this fall, officials said Wednesday while outlining new details about the initiative they plan to make permanent.
Considered one of the largest guaranteed income programs in the nation, Cook County plans to pay 3,250 residents $500 a month for two years with help from its American Rescue Plan Act federal dollars. City and suburban county residents can sign up here for updates on applications open later this year.
At a press conference laying out the details, Cook County Council Chair Toni Preckwinkle sought to preempt critics who she said might use the ‘welfare queen’ trope to argue that poor residents would benefit from government documents, without conditions.
“Historically, public and private institutions have been reluctant to invest directly in low-income people without significant restrictions,” said Preckwinkle, who is running for office this year. “This bureaucracy is not due to evidence but rather to the way our society views people experiencing poverty and questions whether they have the character or ability to make decisions for themselves. To put it plainly , this paternalistic view is both inaccurate and unnecessary.
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Preckwinkle said an investigation shows a previous smaller-scale Cook County cash assistance program implemented during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a “vast majority” of money being spent on food, housing, transportation and medical expenses. This $9 million county program, launched in 2020, distributed CARES Act money to suburban residents only, allowing nearly 14,000 households to receive a one-time payment of $600.
Participants in the new program must be adults whose household income is no more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level and who will not participate in other direct cash assistance programs during the 24 months of the county program. Most of the selected candidates, chosen by lottery, will be suburban residents.
The county’s program total would exceed a similar $31.5 million pilot in Chicago as well as most guaranteed income experiments across the United States. It is also touted as one of the few operating in suburban areas.
Over the past two decades, many suburban communities have struggled with increasing poverty while lacking a network of social service providers. Suburban Chicago is no exception, with the number of residents living below the poverty line jumping 54% from 2010 to 2016, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council.
Preckwinkle also reiterated Wednesday that the county is aiming to make the guaranteed income program permanent, though she did not identify a funding source other than a “variety of revenue sources.” Still, she said the county is committed to making the pilot last beyond the 24-month trial.
The first payments of $500 are expected to be made by the end of 2022. Overall, $39 million of the program budget will go directly to residents in the form of cash assistance, while the rest will go to residents. overhead costs such as outreach, application support, and program success evaluation.
The University of Chicago, which was chosen to study the pilot project, will focus on three aspects: examining the impact on beneficiary outcomes, highlighting the “voices” of participants and organizing public debates on how to improve future cash assistance programs.
Michael Tubbs, founder of the Coalition of Mayors for Guaranteed Income and former mayor of Stockton, Calif., said there are more than 100 such pilots on the move across the country.
“I promise you, this isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea,” Tubbs said. “I promise you people are people.”