Applications for Chicago’s cash assistance pilot program have been open for a week, and so far the city says more than 100,000 applications have been started.
Eligible applicants will be entered into a lottery to determine who will get $500 a month for one year. Ultimately, 5,000 households will receive checks in one of the largest tests of guaranteed income across the country.
“I’m heartened to find out that the application is simple enough that a lot of people have applied and were able to finish the application, that the city invested in outreach. That is all great. It is also at the same time disheartening to know that so many of our neighbors need cash support right now,” said Harish Patel, director of Economic Security for Illinois.
The city tapped the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago to lead outreach efforts and guide people through the application process.
“We’ve put together sets of marketing materials to spread the word in the community. Hundreds of community partners are standing shoulder to shoulder with the YWCA to get the word out. So flyers are being handed out into the community, organizations are sending email blasts, we are having virtual assistance where residents can hear and learn about the program, learn how to complete the application,” said Nicole Robinson, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “We are having in-person events where people can learn about what their options are. And again, it’s for everyone. So caregivers, parents undocumented. There is assistance in six different languages. So we’re meeting people where they are so that for anyone who wants to apply, there’s a solution to help them.”
The nonprofit GiveDirectly is responsible for administering the pilot, which includes building the application process. U.S. Country Director Sarah Moran says accessibility and simplicity were top priorities in creating the platform.
“One of the things that was really challenging was how do you create a scalable application that’s also really accessible and especially for populations that are not super tech literate, that may be housing unstable or homeless, that may not have consistent access to phones or to computers,” Moran said. “So what we’ve actually built is an application that can be done by an individual, by themselves. It’s really simple. It takes only about 20 minutes to fill out, but it can also be implemented in an assisted model.”
Founder and Executive Director of Equity and Transformation Richard Wallace sat on the city’s advisory group. Members of his organization were also part of testing the application process out.
“I think what we knew initially is that accessibility and eligibility were often barriers for our folks,” said Wallace. “One of our lead organizers was able to get a few of our members together to test out the application and they said that it was accessible and they said that they were eligible. And so for me that was the key for me to be like, OK, we’re going to continue to promote this.”
The University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab will study the pilot’s impact and efficacy. Patel says he’s confident results of the study will find the pilot to be a success.
“That study is going to show that when you make things simple and easy and empower people and let them decide what to do with this money, how they want to help their family, that actually is the most empowering and the simplest way to help our neighbors,” said Patel. “And when that happens, I think we’re gonna see changes at all the different departments who provide services in the city.”
The application window for the cash assistance pilot will remain open until May 13 at chicago.gov/cashpilot.