Chicago set to pass one of US's biggest guaranteed income plans, amid calls to put money to violence

The proposal is part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's annual budget plan.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The Chicago City Council is expected to pass a measure this week that would result in one of the largest guaranteed basic income measures in the country, amid calls from black lawmakers to put the money toward the city's violent crime problem. 

The Chicago police department as of last week reported 649 murders this year, compared to 634 for all of 2020. 

The program, if passed, would give 5,000 low-income households $500 a month, using funding from the federal stimulus package that was rolled out earlier this year to address economic hardship as a result of the pandemic.

The program is part of Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposed city budget, which the council is set to begin considering Wednesday. The total cost of the program exceeds $1 million. The city received close to $2 billion in aid from the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan package. 

Most of the city's council-members support the idea. However, several members of the council's Black Caucus have pushed Lightfoot to instead spend the money on violence prevention programs, according to The Washington Post.

Lightfoot says the program is inspired in part by memories of her own childhood during which her family lived "check to check."

"When you're in need, every bit of income helps," she tweeted when announcing the plan weeks ago.

The first pilot program for a guaranteed income policy was implemented in 2019 Stockton, Calif. Monthly stipends were given to 125 households, which city leaders say resulted in more full-time employment in addition to resulting in better mental and emotional well-being among members of the program. 

Several dozen cities have since begun considering similar efforts to target financially challenged members of their communities. That consideration is heavily fueled by the significant amount of funding received by cities as part of the coronavirus stimulus packages.

Opponents of UBI programs argue that guaranteed incomes will discourage people from finding jobs in an environment where 51% of small business owners say they have jobs that they cannot fill. That is more than twice the historical average of 22%. 

In Chicago, the 5,000 recipients will be selected at random. All must be adults who make less than $35,000 annually. The city plans to track the recipients' spending for the first six months of the program and then move to a more targeted assistance system based on spending habits.