Last year, Alds. Sophia King (4th), Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Maria Hadden (49th) proposed a universal basic income (UBI) pilot in Chicago, in which 5,000 families would get $500 dollars a month for a year.
A committee considered the proposal, and the City Council passed a resolution supporting it. In the end, the pilot was enacted through Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s October-passed $16.7 billion budget for this year.
Beginning next month, families that have suffered financial harm caused by the COVID-19 that make up to 250% of the federal poverty level — $40,770 for a household of one, $69,375 for a household of four — can apply for the program at chicago.gov/cashpilot. Recipients will be chosen by lottery, and the money comes with no strings attached.
“Our innovative, monthly cash assistance program will help to stabilize and ensure the wellbeing of residents that have been struggling both before and during the pandemic,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “I am dedicated to continuing to bring relief to our city’s hardest-hit communities and look forward to rolling out this new initiative as soon as possible alongside our newest fines and fees reforms and other Chicago Recovery Plan priorities.”
King, in an interview, said she is happy to see the pilot begin.
“I think it’s a great idea. It’s proven that families who are living paycheck to paycheck, given a little boost, can really feel the impact of having a temporary boost in their life,” she said. “They can make it to job interviews. They can pay their rent while getting on their feet. There’s proven data that shows that it’s very impactful in their lives, so we’re happy to be able to provide this to needy residents in our city.”
King said the decision to choose recipients by lottery means it is important that the families she and the other alderpersons had in mind when crafting the pilot know about it and that applications are taken equitably citywide.
“If the people we’re trying to get to don’t have internet access and all of these things, then it becomes inequitable,” she said. “I just want to ensure that it reaches the people who we are trying to get to.”
In February, City Council also passed an ordinance King wrote to expand the notification organizers need to give them before special events in their wards to 20 days.
King observed that the 4th Ward’s long expanse of lakefront is in high demand as event space. She said there were several mishaps last year: booked venues were not appropriate for the number of people, or the number of people who were expected to come would lead to quality-of-life issues for the surrounding community.
“If they had just let me know about it, I would have told them that I have a bunch of places they can do things at but that this one is not appropriate for this activity, nor is it the best space,” King said. “When you bring something that’s going to impact the community like that, you definitely need to have a good sense of things that you may not think of right away.”
She also noted that relocating planned events, which have to be permitted, causes havoc for the organizers.
In the end, the new ordinance passed council unanimously; King said all alderpersons have to deal with this issue in their wards. She noted that the alderpersons cannot stop the events from happening once the city permits them, but she said their voices should be taken into consideration.
“The irony is that they get affirmation from like six other entities, from like CDOT, from CPD, from Streets and San. All these folks except for us,” she said.