Cook County Launches Program Billed as One of Nation’s Largest Guaranteed Income Pilots | State and Region

CHICAGO — Cook County Board Chair Toni Preckwinkle announced a $42 million guaranteed income pilot project for suburban county residents, which she says will be one of the an ambitious multi-year plan to address racial and economic inequality using federal COVID-19 stimulus funds.

Preckwinkle offered few details about the cash assistance program, but its total would exceed a similar $31.5 million pilot project in Chicago as well as most guaranteed income experiments across the United States. Preckwinkle said some residents would receive monthly payments for at least a year with no attached conditions.

Introducing the program during a City Club of Chicago speech last week, the chairman of the board – who filed nomination petitions on Monday to run for re-election this year – referred to the late writer and activist civil rights activist James Baldwin: “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor. She railed against how ‘racist stereotypes’ have allowed the idea of ​​payments in free cash only recently gained momentum as a means of lifting people out of poverty.

“This cynical mindset gets us nowhere and begs the question: how can the government win back the public’s trust if we don’t trust our residents in return?” said Preckwinkle. “I think it makes perfect sense to give people what they need most when they live in poverty: money. »

Preckwinkle also said the program would continue after its first run – although it’s unclear where the money will come from once the coronavirus stimulus funding is spent.

It is also touted as one of the few guaranteed income programs that only works in the suburbs.

Over the past two decades, many suburban communities nationwide have struggled with increasing poverty while lacking a network of social service providers such as nonprofit organizations. Suburban Chicago is no exception, with the number of residents living below the poverty line jumping 54% from 2010 to 2016, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Cook County’s next pilot, which will debut next year, follows a $9 million county program launched in 2020 that distributed CARES Act money to suburban residents, enabling nearly 14,000 households to receive a one-time payment of $600.

President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act 2021 allocated $1 billion to Cook County, of which about $700 million, according to Preckwinkle, will go to community initiatives over the next few years, while the rest will go to operations. governmental. Once the guaranteed income pilot is complete, the county will need to find funding sources to make the program permanent.

Also in Wednesday’s speech, Preckwinkle touted upcoming uses of federal funds to pilot an alternative 911 response model that would dispatch nonlaw enforcement responders to mental health crises.

She also announced a plan to abolish medical debt for county residents by partnering with an organization to be named to purchase up to $1 billion in outstanding balances for just $12 million.

Preckwinkle said Cook County will be the first local government in the country to launch such a program. Eligible patients must have received medical care at a hospital in Cook County and not earn more than 200% of the federal poverty level or have medical debt totaling at least 5% of their annual household income.

“Medical debt — much like economic insecurity, housing instability, and the other factors I mentioned earlier — primarily affects people of color, working families, and hourly workers,” Preckwinkle said. “This program will have a huge impact on racial equity in Cook County.”

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