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Felix, 72, who received $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot, at his home in Pilsen, where he is his wife’s main caretaker. “It was a success having those $500 that they would give us,” he said. “Because it was a lot of help to me.”

Felix, 72, who received $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot, at his home in Pilsen, where he is his wife’s main caretaker. “It was a success having those $500 that they would give us,” he said. “Because it was a lot of help to me.”

Pat Nabong

How guaranteed-income programs helped these Chicago area residents

For a South Side resident, being able to get a guaranteed income of $500 a month made her feel like she was finally “above water.” A Pilsen resident was able to work as his 69-year-old wife’s main caretaker for a year. A suburban Cook County resident would like the guaranteed income to help her and her two children stay in their home amid rising rental costs.

They are among thousands of Chicago-area residents taking part in a national experiment to see how guaranteed income can impact low-income households. The Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ spoke with four participants from guaranteed-income pilots operated by Equity and Transformation’s Chicago Future Fund, the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot and the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot.

Two of the interviews were coordinated through the Economic Security Project, a nonprofit that has advocated for guaranteed-income programs and provided compensation to people who discussed their participation in the pilots.

Here are their stories:

Felix, 72, who has gotten $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities guaranteed-income pilot since last year, with his wife Juana, 69, who he helps care for, at their home in Pilsen.

Felix, 72, who has gotten $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities guaranteed-income pilot since last year, with his wife Juana, 69, who he helps care for, at their home in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong

‘I was lucky and I was happy’

When Felix takes his wife Juana on walks around Pilsen, he jokes that it’s like they are walking down the aisle again.

“She looks happy,” Felix said in Spanish. “I tell her to hold onto me like if we were going to get married again.”

For a year, Felix got a lifeline through the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot that provided 5,000 city residents with $500 for 12 months. He had left his factory job before the program started, and the money meant he could concentrate on being his wife’s main caretaker as she worked to recover from a stroke in January 2021. She’s able to walk around more, though Felix is always close by to make sure she doesn’t fall. But Juana is still unable to speak.

Even before he received the $500 monthly benefit, he leaned on his children for financial support. Felix, who asked that his full name not be published, is undocumented and isn’t eligible for unemployment or Social Security benefits.

“It was a success having those $500 that they would give us,” he said. “Because it was a lot of help to me. And, thanks to God, I was lucky, and I was happy when I would get $500 every month.”

Silvana, Felix’s daughter-in-law who also asked that her full name not be published, said the program gave her in-laws a sense of financial independence, that they didn’t have to ask for money from family.

Felix used the money in part for groceries, to buy things like papaya, oranges and toiletries. He also has used the money to help pay their portion of the rent and to pay for gas.

Now that the city’s year-long guaranteed-income program has ended, Felix, 72, said he might have to return to work, at least part-time, though he worries about competing with younger people for a job. Silvana said the family plans to continue helping the couple.

“I’m somewhat sad because I was happy with the help,” Felix said. “We’ll see how we are able to go on.”

Gail Goodwin, 57, a security guard who has been receiving $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities guaranteed-income program, at home in Chicago Lawn. “The money filled in a gap,” Goodwin said. “Not a big gap, but it helped.

Gail Goodwin, 57, a security guard who has been receiving $500 a month from the Chicago Resilient Communities guaranteed-income program, at home in Chicago Lawn. “The money filled in a gap,” Goodwin said. “Not a big gap, but it helped.

Pat Nabong

‘Pulled me above water’

Gail Goodwin envisioned stashing away some of the $500 monthly guaranteed income she got for 12 months to help her children one day pay for her funeral.

But one month her paycheck was short because the school where she works as a security guard closed for the holidays. The $500 helped her pay rent and bills, Goodwin said. Another month, the money went toward repairing a broken window in the home she rents on the South Side. Other times, it was used to help bring down the amount she owes a utility company.

“The money filled in a gap,” said Goodwin, 57. “Not a big gap, but it helped. It was there, and I knew it was available. That’s what helps, too: You know the money is available.”

Goodwin is paid $16 an hour as a security guard, and the guaranteed income alleviated stress particularly around financial emergencies, she said.

She said living paycheck to paycheck before the pilot made her feel depressed because she never seemed to have much left over no matter how many hours she worked. It’s one reason she calls Chicago’s pilot a success.

“The cash pilot pulled me above water ‘cause I could’ve drowned, and I didn’t drown,” Goodwin said. “So it does work, even if it’s for a year.”

Sherrif Polk, 28, has been getting a $500 monthly stipend from the Equity and Transformation’s Chicago Future Fund, which gives the benefit to formerly incarcerated people. Polk, seen here at Loyola Beach in Rogers Park, said he has used the money to buy diapers for his young daughter, get school supplies for his older kids and help their mother with costs.

Sherrif Polk, 28, has been getting a $500 monthly stipend from the Equity and Transformation’s Chicago Future Fund, which gives the benefit to formerly incarcerated people. Polk, seen here at Loyola Beach in Rogers Park, said he has used the money to buy diapers for his young daughter, get school supplies for his older kids and help their mother with costs.

Pat Nabong

‘Helped me through my struggle’

Sherrif Polk knows exactly how long between 2021 and 2022 he was placed under house electronic monitoring as a criminal case he faced moved through the courts: two years, nine months and 25 days.

During that time, the 28-year-old said he couldn’t go outside even to take out the trash. His son, one of his six children, had to lug out the old tiles from the bathroom Polk was renovating while on house arrest in his Rogers Park home.

“I was just mad at myself as a father [that] my son had to go through this little stage,” he said. “I wasn’t able to go provide for my family, as a father, as I should.”

Polk, who works as a youth organizer, said he was facilitating restorative justice discussions over Zoom to help provide for his fiancée and their kids when a friend told him about the Chicago Future Fund and that he thought, “This would be perfect. Thanksgiving was around the corner and especially Christmas.”

When he got the call that he was chosen into the Future Fund program, he “was geeked … I made sure I kept my promise to [my kids] that they would have the best Christmas.”

Created by the West Side nonprofit Equity and Transformation (EAT), which focuses on the formerly incarcerated, the Chicago Future Fund was established even before the city of Chicago or Cook County created their guaranteed income pilots. The first round began in November 2021 and had 30 participants, including Polk. The second round, which has grown to 100 recipients, began this March and runs through February 2024.

For Polk, whose case was eventually dismissed, the monthly $500 was a welcome help during a time he felt helpless.

Polk said he has used the money to buy diapers for his young daughter, get school supplies for his older kids and help their mother with costs.

His last payment came in April.

“The people that’s formerly incarcerated — you are invisible,” he said, and the cash “helped me through my struggle.”

Sabrina Panariella, 43, is a part-time yoga instructor and also works as a massage therapist at a chiropractor’s office. The single mother of two is one of the recipients in the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot program, which she said, in part, “went right towards my rent.”

Sabrina Panariella, 43, is a part-time yoga instructor and also works as a massage therapist at a chiropractor’s office. The single mother of two is one of the recipients in the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot program, which she said, in part, ‘went right towards my rent.’

Pat Nabong

‘I can really get some things together’

Sabrina Panariella was cooking dinner one night last fall when she got a text saying she was accepted into the Cook County Promise pilot program.

“I was just in shock, smiling, like, ‘There’s a God,’” said Panariella, 43. “I think some of the [dinner] might have even burned a little bit because I started crying and texting as many people as I could.”

A single mom of two boys, Panariella had learned just weeks before that the rent for her River Grove apartment would go up by $250. The first of 24 installments of $500 — the Cook County Promise runs two years — arrived in January.

“It went right towards my rent,” she said. “It was such a beautiful thing.”

She also made plans to start an organization that helps kids who lose parents at a young age, having lost both of her parents to AIDS in the 1990s. She also hopes to save to buy a house.

Recently, though, she found out that her food stamp benefits, $700 a month, were canceled “because I make $300 more than the limit for a family of three.” Also, in May, she had car troubles.

Still, she feels lucky to have been chosen for the pilot, especially as a single mom with little support.

“My heart goes out to everybody who’s a single parent, whether you’re a female or a male, it doesn’t matter,” Panariella said. “The struggle is real, and it is programs like the Cook County Promise that really help. I don’t know what I would do without that at this point.”

She hopes that, in two years, she “can really get some things together” for a home purchase or a new organization. She said the cash payments also are key for her to just stay afloat financially.

“As long as we can keep a roof over our head, I think that this pilot has worked for me,” Panariella said. “Even if we don’t run out of food, this program will help.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk.

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