Lightfoot announces new $500 per month basic income program for poor after slashing police funding

Chicago has become the latest Democrat-run city to implement a basic income program for thousands of low-income earners, though the Windy City’s program comes after Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city council voted to strip tens of millions in funding from the police department, resulting in the loss of hundreds of officers.

On Thursday, Lightfoot announced that the $31 million universal basic income pilot program is set to begin in 2022 and will provide $500 per month to poor families as part of her $16.7 billion proposed budget for next year that was approved Wednesday by the city council.

The new budget also raises the Chicago Police Department’s budget $200 million to $1.9 billion next year, but that comes after she and the city council cut police funding last year by $80 million in response to ‘defund police’ calls from activists.

The basic income program will provide monthly $500 payments to 5,000 eligible recipients who are adults and must be earning less than $35,000 annually. The mayor called her budget the “most progressive” in the city’s history.

“This program is controversial for some. But for me, it just makes plain sense,” she said, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The pilot program is funded largely by $2 billion in federal tax dollars Chicago received through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 relief measure he signed earlier this year.

The $80 million cut in police funding last year resulted in the loss of about 400 officers, reported, even as Chicago was already dealing with a steep rise in murders throughout the city last year.

That said, Lightfoot told a graduating police recruit class last week that she has no plans to make further cuts to the department.

“People want you – every day. I travel this city from neighborhood to neighborhood, all across the city, north and south and east and west,” she said, according to “Our residents are desperate for your help and your support. They want more police – not less police.”

In announcing the income program, Lightfoot talked about growing up in poverty herself.

“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,” she said.

“I knew what it felt like to live check to check. When you’re in need, every bit of income helps,” she added.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced what he called the country’s largest guaranteed basic income program, which provides $1,000 per month to more than 3,000 families living in the city’s Council District, its poorest.

Families in the Council District who are living below the poverty line can file for assistance under the program beginning Friday, with applications being accepted through Nov. 7, American Wire reported.

“These will be unconditional, regular, and direct cash payments to individual participants that supplement existing welfare programs. This means there are no restrictions on how the money can be spent and no requirements for the participants,” says the program’s website. “Whether that means paying for rent, a new tire, or an unexpected trip to urgent care. These participants are granted the freedom to meet their most pressing needs without delay.”

Oakland, Calif., launched a similar program earlier this year amid controversy, as the money will only go to families of color. And a program in New York City will provide $1,250 per month to 40 homeless young people between 18 and 24 for two years.

Missy Halsey


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