The Chicago City Council has approved $35 million dollars to pilot a universal basic income program in one of the largest efforts of its kind in the nation.
The newly approved budget will give $500 each month to 5,000 low-income families under the program promoted by Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“I am beyond excited to announce the passage of the most progressive and forward-looking budget in our city’s history,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
“As we move away from the pandemic, we must use this opportunity and once-in-a-lifetime funding to address the economic and emotional pain it has wreaked on our communities. This budget, complete with a historic number of investments and policy prescriptions, will meet this moment and help us fulfill our responsibility to uplifting and empowering our residents,” the mayor added.
Local civic leaders hailed the program’s passing as an effort that will “change and save lives.”
“The $500 monthly payments to 5,000 Chicagoans included in this budget will change and save lives,” Richard Wallace, founder and director of Equity and Transformation, said in a statement Thursday.
“A Chicago guaranteed income pilot offers a tangible step toward a more equitable city. It is Lincoln Park saying to West Garfield Park: I see you; I see the high rates of unemployment; I see the income gap; and I am going to do something about it,” he added.
Former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson added her support last month in the effort leading to the program’s approval.
“As a former Mayor, I know budgets are never easy, and striking the right balance is always the goal. This budget begins that process, with its substantial investments in youth, mental health, community development, arts, and other human service functions,” Freeman said in a statement.
“At the same time this budget acknowledges that city debt and public safety cannot be ignored. I commend Mayor Lightfoot for the strides in this budget proposal and look forward to a participatory process that addresses challenges like universal basic income, continued small business investment and reimagining public safety,” she added.
But not everyone approves of the new basic income program. Some are concerned the no-strings-attached approach has no method to help people beyond a temporary fix.
Bruce Meyer, the McCormick Foundation Professor at the University of Chicago, told local WTTW-TV earlier this year that the blanket program doesn’t really help long-term.
“It just sends people checks, whereas what you really need given the diversity of problems people face, is a social worker to figure out what people really need, and to get them to job training or to child care or drug treatment or in the end you may say for certain people, just cash is really what they need,” Meyer said.
“If you don’t have someone interacting with individuals, then you don’t get the right things to people,” he added.
Michael Faulkender, who served as an assistant treasury secretary for economic policy during the Trump administration, also told The Washington Post the plan could continue to hurt the city’s job shortage.
“There are still millions of low-skilled jobs out there, and you have small business owners who can’t find workers to join their companies,” said Faulkender, who teaches finance at the University of Maryland. Proposals like the one in Chicago feed the “process of reducing the willingness of people to participate in the workforce,” he said.
Chicago Southwest Side Alderman Raymond Lopez also pushed back against the plan. “Listening to some of the speeches today, I feel like Christmas has come early,” he said, calling the budget “grossly out of balance” in remarks at the budget meeting.