Alderman Villegas among those calling for hearings on ‘guaranteed income’ pilot program for struggling Chicagoans
by BRIAN NADIG
A recently proposed resolution calls for the City Council to hold public hearings on the creation of a pilot “guaranteed income” program for struggling Chicagoans.
The resolution’s sponsors maintain that the timing for a pilot program is ideal in light of the expected passage of the federal American Rescue Plan, which would offer the city discretionary funding to provide pandemic-related relief to residents.
“After almost a year in crisis, Chicago’s families are still struggling to attend to their most urgent needs. At the same time, the businesses in our neighborhoods are struggling to keep their doors open. Today, the solution we offer to provide them relief is bold, yet simple: we resolve to find a way to guarantee a basic income for Chicagoans. ” said Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th), one of the the resolution’s three sponsors.
Villegas added, “Distributing cash directly to Chicago families would transform life for millions of Chicagoans for generations to come.”
The resolution was introduced on Feb. 24 to the Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development, whose chairman is Villegas. The other sponsors are Alderwoman Maria Hadden (49th) and Alderman Sophia King (4th).
The resolution outlines the economic insecurity faced by many Chicago residents, including the worsening racial wealth gap, a legacy of disinvestment via policies like redlining, and the more recent advent of gig economy jobs, which include short-term positions for independent contractors, according to a news release issued by Villegas.
The resolution, if passed, would establish that the council hold hearings on the creation of a guaranteed basic income, an idea that wasraised with the launch of the Chicago Resilient Families Task Force in 2018. The resolution does not recommend specific eligibility criteria and an amount for the payments.
Under the concept of guaranteed income, cash payments with no restrictions on how the funds are spent are made to eligible individuals. This differs from the concept of “universal basic income,” which calls for payments to all residents.
“That’s the revolutionary part of this and what we think is going to work,” said Jenna Severson, communications manager for Economic Security for Illinois, an organization which has been advocating for guaranteed income. She added that programs designed to help the needy too often fall into the trap of “over-legislating and dictating what poor people can’t do with the money.”
The guaranteed income concept allows individuals to self-tailor the program to best fit their needs, which can include housing, food, clothing or educational expenses, Severson said. This differs from the concert of “universal basic income,” which calls for payments to all residents.
A study of a guaranteed income program in Stockton, Calif., showed that the recipients spent 40 percent of their money on food and 25 percent on merchandise such as clothing and home goods, according to the Economic Security Project. The recipients also reported an increase in the amount of time spent with family members.
Under the program 125 residents of Stockton received $500 a month.
In addition, the Alaska Permanent Fund has kept 15,000 to 25,000 residents (two to three percent of the state’s population) above the poverty line annually, according to the security project. The yearly payments reportedly are about $1,600.
“Cash policy is smart policy. Cash meets most urgent needs with immediate impact. But cash is more than a quick fix. Recurring cash payments are a long-term investment, offering tangible and continued resources so families can pursue their goals with a sense of stability and security,” said said Economic Security for Illinois director Harish Patel.
“This crisis is new, but the economic insecurity our families face is not. Prior to the pandemic, families– specifically Black and Brown families like the ones in my ward– have been watching their paychecks diminish year over year as neighbors have been priced out– or pushed out– of the communities they love. Guaranteeing a basic income would put more power in the hands of these families,” Hadden said.
“Over the course of this year, we’ve watched as businesses, people, and governments have needed to innovate. COVID-19 has required us all to think differently about the work we do. In some ways, what we’re offering here is revolutionary; but in other ways, it’s common sense. Let’s figure out how to give Chicagoans cash. After all, they know better than we do what they need,” King said.