• Alex Nitkin
    FEB 25, 2022

    Guaranteed income pilot, domestic worker payments, ticket debt relief coming in the spring: Lightfoot

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot touts her record of anti-poverty programs during an event on Thursday.

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot released new details Thursday on the city’s hotly anticipated guaranteed income pilot program, pitching it as part of a multi-pronged anti-poverty campaign that will also include relief for domestic workers, undocumented residents and people who have accumulated car ticket debt.

    Lightfoot announced as part of her 2022 budget proposal last year that her $2.1 billion “Chicago Recovery Plan” backed by cash from the federal American Rescue Plan Act would include about $31.5 million for a direct cash assistance program, but her administration has since released little information on the plan — including when checks would start going out.

    Related: Lightfoot reveals 'Chicago Recovery Plan' with guaranteed income plank as progressive groups take credit

    A nearly identical plan (O2021-1564) to give out free cash was trumpeted earlier last year by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), but Lightfoot and other aldermen dismissed it at the time.

    Related: Aldermen line up behind guaranteed income: ‘2021 is our New Deal moment’

    Lightfoot’s administration for the first time on Thursday gave the cash assistance program a name — the “Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot” — and a firmer timeline, saying applications will open for the program in April with a goal of sending payments out by the end of May.

    City leaders also revealed qualifications for the program, saying the payments will only be eligible to people 18 and older who earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $32,200 for an individual or $66,250 for a family of four. Lightfoot added that applicants "must have experienced an economic hardship related to COVID-19, which pretty much covers every single person living in the city of Chicago."

    The city will host a lottery to find 5,000 low-income families who will each receive $500 per month for 12 months, officials said.

    "This pilot will advance our equitable economic pandemic recovery and make Chicago part of the national conversation about the impact of cash assistance," Lightfoot said. "Cash is a simple and powerful way for government to support residents who are working hard to regain stability and build a better life for themselves and their families."

    The guaranteed income program took its most recent step forward earlier this month, when the city’s Department of Family and Support Services issued two separate Requests for Proposals to find organizations to administer and run outreach for the payments.


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

    The request looking for the program’s administrator 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. 

    City officials said they expect to award up to $100,000 to one “lead outreach and recruitment agency” with an additional option for subcontractors. 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 Request for Proposals. 

    Lightfoot’s office added in a news release Thursday that she has “convened an Advisory Group of experts from across Chicago and the country — including advocates, researchers, aldermen, and those with personal experience of poverty — to advise the city on equitable and effective program design and implementation.” The full advisory group is listed online.

    Domestic worker, debt relief planks

    The mayor also rolled out a suite of smaller relief programs on Thursday, including a $4.8 million “Domestic Worker Relief Fund” that will provide one-time $500 checks to nearly 10,000 domestic workers around the city. The new fund comes months after a new citywide rule went into effect mandating contracts for all domestic workers.

    The city will set aside another $10.7 million for what the mayor’s office is calling the “Chicago Resiliency Fund 2.0,” which will provide one-time $500 payments for Chicagoans who are undocumented or were otherwise excluded from federal stimulus checks in 2020 and 2021. The family and support services department released a Request for Proposals on Tuesday looking for an administrator to run the program.

    Finally, Lightfoot announced that applications will open on April 1 for what her office is calling the Clear Path Relief program, which is “designed to help low-income motorists eliminate old debt by paying off only the original fine amount on tickets incurred within the last 3 years,” without late penalties.

    Chicagoans with outstanding vehicle-related violations will have to apply through the city’s Department of Finance to be eligible for the relief. If they’re deemed qualified, any new tickets they incur before Dec. 31, 2023 will be assessed at half the original fine and will not incur any late fees or penalties. Drivers who are already enrolled in the city’s Utility Billing Relief program will not need to show any new documentation to apply, officials said.

    Following an investigative series by WBEZ and ProPublica showing that city ticket debt was trapping many low-income households in poverty, Lightfoot spearheaded an effort in 2019 to reform city sticker fees in a move that has since wiped away more than $11 million in outstanding debt, the mayor said Thursday.

    Related: Hundreds of thousands of motorists could receive debt relief from vehicle sticker tickets as city expands reform

    "For years, successive mayoral administrations the city of Chicago was crushing residents with debt," Lightfoot said. "We have made taxpayers out of residents, instead of turning them into scofflaws."

    Lightfoot on Thursday called the new suite of programs a follow-through to her February 2020 address making the audacious promise to enact policies that would end “poverty in Chicago in a generation.” The speech came weeks before COVID-19 overtook the city, derailing many of her administration’s plans.

    Related: ‘Poverty is killing us — all of us’: Lightfoot pledges to end generational poverty

    At the time, Lightfoot laid out four "pillars" of her plans to attack poverty: "reducing the cost of being poor;" "making workplaces fairer and more just;" "addressing health care inequities;" and "fostering and increasing community wealth." The mayor said the new programs announced on Thursday follow through on existing anti-poverty initiatives aimed at either providing "direct assistance to individuals" or "breaking down systemic barriers." 

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