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Chicago’s City Council voted overwhelmingly this past week to approve the city’s “most progressive budget in City Hall’s history,” according to Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.
Included in the budget is a one-year test of a concept that is widely known as universal basic income. Under the plan, the city will send $500 checks, no strings attached, to 5,000 needy families. Lightfoot has called it the largest such program in the nation.
“This program is controversial for some. But for me, it just makes plain sense,” Lightfoot said to The Chicago Sun-Times.
To be eligible, recipients must be adults and earn less than $35,000 a year. The city of Chicago will set aside $35 million to fund the program. The pilot is largely funded by the $2 billion Chicago received from Biden’s America Rescue Plan.
City uses Covid relief funds to launch universal basic income project
In contrast, Critics of the program have pointed to the city’s 2020 budget cut of $80 million to the police department as a misplacement of funds. The 2020 budget cut led to 400 fewer police officer positions in the city. However, in this new budget Chicago’s police budget increased to $1.9 billion – $200 million more than in 2021.
At a graduation ceremony for police recruits last week, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot said that she doesn’t plan to make further cuts to the police budget and that Chicagoans actually wanted more cops.
Addressing poverty through direct cash payments
“People want you – every day. I travel this city from neighborhood to neighborhood, all across the city, north and south and east and west,” Chicago Mayor Lightfoot said. “Our residents are desperate for your help and your support. They want more police – not less police”.
Moreover, a 2019 task force by the mayor’s office found that at least 500,000 individuals live below or at the poverty level, which is 18% of the city’s population.
“Of course, we need to teach people how to fish. But, in this moment with so many people suffering in pain and worrying about financial ruin, this is what we must do to make sure that these families don’t slip into the abyss,” Lightfoot said on Wednesday.
“I knew what it felt like to live check to check. When you’re in need, every bit of income helps”.