• Erin Hegarty
    FEB 02, 2022

    City issues bid requests for guaranteed income pilot, could issue first payments by summer

    The city of issue issued bid requests for a guaranteed income pilot program that could begin issuing checks by the summer. [Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash] 

    City officials are hoping the outreach and recruitment processes for a planned $31.5 million guaranteed income pilot program can be launched in March with an initial batch of payments going out to qualifying households as early as May, according to requests from the city published this week. 

    Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services on Monday issued two requests for proposals for organizations to administer and run outreach for the city’s guaranteed basic income pilot program, which Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed and the City Council approved as part of this year’s budget. Chicago’s guaranteed income pilot program will be funded with federal dollars awarded to the city via the American Rescue Plan. 


    City officials have been short on details of the forthcoming program since it was approved in October, but two requests by the city for agencies to help implement and run the pilot program offer a closer look at where the city wants to target outreach and how the program’s effectiveness will be evaluated. 

    The two separate requests for proposals (RFPs) both describe the program as the “Chicago Resilient Communities Monthly Cash Assistance Pilot,” and both were issued by the Department of Family and Support Services. 

    According to the RFPs, the goal of the program is “to reach 5,000 low-income Chicagoans who have been hard hit by COVID-19, and to support their path to greater economic stability by providing cash assistance ($500 per month) over a 12-month period.” 

    “The Pilot is also intended to serve as a demonstration of the effectiveness of cash assistance within a broader portfolio of safety net benefits and services, and of City government’s ability to meet residents where they are and support their self-defined path toward financial security,” according to the requests. 

    “A successful pilot will not only impact Chicago residents and human services, but also advance the national conversation about direct cash assistance as a policy lever,” according to the requests. 

    A spokesperson for Lightfoot on Monday wrote in an email to The Daily Line that “the Mayor is committed to addressing the economic hardships that so many households continue to face from COVID-19.”  

    “People experiencing poverty, fundamentally, do not have enough money to make ends meet,” according to the spokesperson. “The monthly cash assistance pilot will help low-income Chicagoans who have this very widely held problem.” 

    City officials are expecting this month to announce “specific eligibility criteria” and an application process for the pilot program, according to the spokesperson. 

    “We are working regularly with aldermen, advocates, policy experts, and people who have experienced poverty to ensure the program reaches all four corners of the city, and in ways that will improve quality of life and economic insecurity,” the spokesperson wrote.   

    The guaranteed income advocacy group Economic Security for Illinois supports the program “wholeheartedly,” according to a statement Director Harish Patel emailed to The Daily Line on Monday. 

    “While we do want the money to get out as quickly as possible to attend to this moment of crisis, we would rather the City do diligence to ensure it can study and capture the power of direct cash at this scale,” according to Patel’s written statement. “Chicago has the opportunity to make change that echoes nationally with this program; it's our hope that this program could be a template for other cities (or states) to adopt.” 

    And while “dozens of localities” around the country have implemented guaranteed income programs using similar timelines, “none have had as many recipients as Chicago,” according to Patel. 

    Additionally, Patel said he has been “formally asked” to serve on an “advisory council” on the pilot program alongside other leaders who advocated for the guaranteed income program. 

    What the RFPs are looking for 

    According to the request for an agency to conduct outreach work, the Department of Family and Support Serivces is looking for an organization that can “act as a lead agency — subcontracting and coordinating multiple community-based organizations — to fulfill the outreach and recruitment function for the pilot.” Additionally, the department might offer some community-based organizations small, direct grants to do outreach for specific populations, according to the request. 

    The RFP for the program’s administration seeks an agency to “manage and coordinate the end-to-end application experience,” the program’s “enrollment and selection technology platforms,” application verification, “onboarding and benefit counseling” and management and distribution of the monthly payments. 

    According to the RFPs, the city is expecting to award up to $100,000 to one “lead outreach and recruitment agency” while also expecting subcontracting will be necessary. A “limited number” of $10,000 grants may also be awarded to community-based organizations for outreach to specific populations. 

    The program administrator would be tasked with creating and managing a public website for the pilot program that includes “key program information” for applicants, participants, partners, media and the public — a similar design to Los Angeles’ pilot program website, according to the RFP. 

    The Department of Family and Support Services is seeking an agency that can also offer payment options that are both “accessible and flexible” to the needs of program participants and ensures households “receive the full impact of each $500-dollar payment.” According to the RFP, the department is placing a priority on “no-fee online banking direct deposit” and the use of pre-paid debit cards.  

    The city plans to award up to $31 million to one agency to administer the program with $30 million of the funding coming via the “pass-through” federal grant dollars. Up to $1 million could be used for the agency’s administrative costs, according to the RFP.  

    Who will qualify 

    When it comes to who will qualify for the guaranteed income pilot, the city wrote in its RFP that “program eligibility will be based on income and negative impact from COVID-19” and “specific thresholds will be based on federal Treasury guidelines.” 

    City officials are hoping to focus outreach on parents and caregivers of children, family and “informal caregivers” of people with disabilities and older adults, and Chicago residents who are not already “participating in other social safety net benefits.” 

    “To be clear, these focus populations are not criteria for eligibility, rather, [the department] is prioritizing outreach to these sub-populations from a position of inclusion,” according to the RFP. “A successful design of the outreach, engagement, and application support will incorporate strategies that overcome anticipated barriers to participation for any eligible participant.” 

    City officials are also hoping to target populations including people who are “housing insecure,” those who have experienced gender-based violence, veterans, undocumented residents, disabled residents, people who are not connected to broadband internet and non-native English speakers. 

    “Substantial research highlights the disproportionate economic and mental health effects of the pandemic on caregivers and women in particular,” according to the RFP for outreach. Additionally, the shuttering of schools and early childhood programs during the pandemic furthers the “gender gap in employment outcomes” when it comes to an increase in childcare responsibilities and “the destabilization of a sector in which women represent a high proportion of employees,” the document reads. 

    Studies the city cites in its RFPs found a “higher prevalence of adverse mental health outcomes, including symptoms of anxiety and depression, among unpaid caregivers — both of children and adults — compared to similar non-caregivers.” 

    City officials suggest a plethora of locations for potential outreach for residents who could benefit from the pilot program including public libraries and schools, Department of Family and Support Services community service centers, food pantries, homeless shelters and CTA locations. 

    The city is looking for agencies that can launch outreach and recruitment initiatives “as early as March 2022” with those activities planned to wrap up by July or August. 

    Additionally, the department has launched an “advisory group” composed of city departments, sister agencies, advocacy organizations, social service providers, researchers, aldermen and “individuals with personal experience of living in poverty,” which is tasked with advising the city on the program’s design and implementation.  

    City officials plan to work with a nonprofit research institution or an academic partner to evaluate the pilot program via a research study that examines the impact of the guaranteed income program on participating households, participant experience and the pilot program’s effectiveness. Applicants who are denied may be asked to participate in the study as a control group. 

    “Research participation will be voluntary and compensated,” according to the request for proposals.

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