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The City of Evanston launched a Guaranteed Income Program that will randomly select 150 eligible applicants to receive $500-a-month for a year – with no strings attached – on a prepaid debit card.

The city hosted one of three information sessions Thursday afternoon at the Levy Senior Center to answer questions and assist residents in completing applications for the program.

Mayor Daniel Biss Credit: Richard Cahan

Mayor Daniel Biss opened the session stating the city wants “to support our residents and not to tell our residents how to support themselves.”

There has been significant interest, and Biss said a lot of applications have come in. “But as we keep telling people, it’s not first come first serve. So we encourage anybody who’s interested to get their application in before they’re due on Aug. 29.”

Alison Leipsiger, policy coordinator for the program, led the presentation. She emphasized that for the 150 Evanston residents chosen, there will be no restrictions on how the money is spent. 

“That’s the point of the program. It’s not like general assistance, where you can’t spend money on certain products like alcohol or tobacco,” Leipsiger said. “You can take out cash. You can put it in a different bank account. You could do whatever you want.”

The $500-a-month is not taxable and is considered a gift. The first payment will be disbursed Nov. 1.

Who is Eligible?

To be eligible, all applicants must be: 

Credit: City of Evanston
  • An Evanston resident, with
  • Household income at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Line, which is $33,975 for one person, $45,775 for two people, $57,575 for a family of three and $69,375 for a family of four.

Besides these requirements, applicants also must be in one of the following three groups:

  • 18-24 years old
  • 62 years or older
  • A member of the undocumented community

Anybody who can be claimed as a dependent by someone else – meaning they are dependent on someone else for housing, food, education, etc – is not eligible. Leipsiger noted that Northwestern University students living in Evanston who are completely supported by their families are not the target group of this program. But 18-to 24-year-olds who are living without financial support are eligible. 

How do I apply?

If you are chosen to participate, you’ll be asked to provide proof of residency in Evanston, proof of income and proof of age.

Applicants must submit their most recent tax return. (The city requests applicants black out their social security and bank account numbers when submitting.) 

For those who do not make enough money to file taxes, that requirement will be waived.

Will I lose other benefits?

If you are interested in applying but already receive federal money from WIC, the federal Women, Infant, Children supplemental program, or for housing assistance and/or supplemental security income (SSI), those benefits may be compromised. WIC recipients will lose benefits if they accept guaranteed income funds. 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development considers this benefit to be income, and will deduct money from your HUD benefit if you are accepted for a guaranteed income debit card.

For those on SSI, your benefits may also be affected, but it is less likely. The Social Security Administration sent the City of Chicago written confirmation that SSI recipients receiving the guaranteed income benefit will not have their SSI income affected. The City of Evanston is awaiting the same letter. 

If any Evanstonians on SSI are chosen in the guaranteed income lottery and lose benefits, the city will represent those individuals in court for free.

How does the process work?

After randomly selecting 150 eligible applications, the city will reach out to recipients by phone. If they do not respond within two weeks, the benefits will go to the next person.

Recipients will be asked to complete “benefits counseling,” with the city. City workers will discuss with people how the guaranteed income will impact their other benefits. 

Northwestern research component

The first 150 recipients will be invited to be part of the initiative’s pilot program, and Northwestern University researchers will investigate the impact of this program with voluntary participants. 

“We really don’t care how you spend the money. And we’re going to take away all identifying factors,” said Jess Thomas, research project manager. 

The goal of the study is to understand how receiving this benefit, or not receiving it, will impact an individual’s mental health, emotional health and more. 

If you are selected for a benefit card, you are not forced to participate in this study. But, if you do, you will be compensated for your time. If you are not chosen for a benefit card, you can still participate in the study as a control group. 

The researchers said they will be comparing the people selected to get the money with those who don’t in order to gauge the impact of the program. 

Learn more about the guaranteed income program here

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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  1. Send such great news! And a big shoutout to former mayor Steve Hagerty for his past work in helping to create this pilot program in partnership with Northwestern’s Good Neighbor Fund. It was such a pleasure to read that this project is going forward!