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Chicago’s new basic income program will open to residents seeking cash assistance in April

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CHICAGO - Chicago residents will be able to apply to participate in the city’s $500-per-month basic income pilot program in April, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday.

The City Council passed a $31.5 million basic income program as part of Lightfoot’s $16.7 billion budget.

Lightfoot administration officials are in the process of hiring an outside company to run the program, which aims to provide 5,000 low-income households with the monthly cash payments for 12 months — something the mayor has touted as one of the largest programs of its kind nationwide.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot, shown in City Council Chambers during the council meeting on Feb. 23, 2022, has announced a series of anti-poverty initiatives that include direct cash payments to qualifying residents.

Applicants must be over 18, live in the city, have experienced economic hardship due to COVID-19 and be below 250% of the federal poverty level. That means a household of three can’t have an income higher than $57,575 to be eligible, for instance.

More information is on the city’s website, including a signup for those who want to be alerted when the applications, at: chicago.gov/cashpilot.

In April, the city will also open applications for a $4.8 million program offering one-time $500 payments to domestic workers. In addition, the city also has established a $10.7 million fund offering one-time $500 payments to people who are ineligible for federal relief, including undocumented immigrants.

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And Lightfoot’s administration will launch another pilot program, allowing low-income motorists to pay off old tickets without interest or other penalties. That program, called the Clear Path Relief pilot, will open on April 1.

The city is also introducing a “fix-it” option for expired city sticker or license plate violations, where individuals can purchase the required stickers within 30 days of the violation without having to pay the penalty.

“Today’s announcement is all about supporting our residents who are still struggling to make ends meet,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Our innovative, monthly cash assistance program will help to stabilize and ensure the wellbeing of residents that have been struggling both before and during the pandemic.”

Lightfoot cast the announcements as part of a broader anti-poverty agenda, but she’s faced criticism for her efforts as well.

The mayor initially opposed efforts by Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, to implement a basic income cash program, for example, but introduced her plan as part of last year’s budget.

As a candidate, Lightfoot campaigned against the city’s system of fines and fees, frequently criticizing the city for balancing its budget on the backs of taxpayers using regressive penalties on tickets.

Within months of taking office in 2019, the mayor shepherded through the City Council a series of reforms to the city’s fines-and-fees system that ended the practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of people who haven’t paid parking tickets, reduced vehicle sticker penalties and created a six-month payment plan to give those with ticket debt more time to pay.

But she introduced a plan in 2020 to start ticketing drivers going as little as 6 mph over the speed limit, a move that drew criticism from activists who called it a cash grab. The mayor said it’s meant to boost public safety.

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