Thousands of struggling Chicagoans have received their first $500 payments as part of the city’s new guaranteed income pilot program.
The City of Chicago announced this week that 3,500 residents have gotten the first monthly direct deposits into their bank accounts or their prepaid debit cards. GiveDirectly, the administrator of the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot, is working with the city to finalize payment arrangements for the remaining 1,500 households in the coming weeks.
“Direct cash payments have the potential to be truly transformative for communities that need it most,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.
Officials said more than 176,000 residents applied for the program, one of the largest cash assistance pilots in the nation. The 5,000 recipients were chosen by lottery, which prioritized households living in poverty and parts of Chicago that have long experienced economic hardship.
According to the city, about 61% of recipients live below the federal poverty line — an income of about $22,000 or less for a household of three. Included in that number are the 38% of recipients who live in “deep poverty,” making about $11,000 or less for a household of three.
The remaining 39% of the monthly cash recipients have incomes between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty line, making up to about $58,000 for a household of three.
Shriver Center on Poverty Law President Audra Wilson, who was part of the city’s advisory group on the cash pilot, said “ideally, you would want a program like this to be able to target those who are deepest in poverty.”
However, she added, it’s a challenge “even just being able to reach those who are living in deep poverty, for them to be able to apply and to get information to them.”
Wilson said 38% is a “substantial number” and a good start for a pilot program.
City officials said about 67% of participants identify as Black, and 27% identify as Latino or Hispanic.
Most recipients — about 70% — identify as women, and 61% said they were parents or caregivers. Wilson said those figures are consistent with poverty statistics.
Wilson added that the Chicago pilot, in combination with Cook County’s upcoming program, is “one step out of many” to help residents out of poverty. She said she is heartened by the dozens of guaranteed income programs starting throughout the country.
“We believe very much in [their] power to tackle systemic inequalities and the legacy of structural racism in the United States,” Wilson said.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.