Received from the City of Evanston:
Something big is happening today: The first payments in Evanston’s Guaranteed Income Pilot Program are going out! These are the first of twelve $500 monthly distributions that the 150 randomly selected eligible individuals and families will receive.
Guaranteed income pilots are popping up across the country, including in Chicago and Cook County. They’re simultaneously innovative and yet extraordinarily simple, and represent a fundamental break from a 45-year trend in American governance that took root with Ronald Reagan’s popularization of the racist and sexist “welfare queen” trope.
The basic idea was this: that poor people couldn’t be trusted to spend money in their own best interest, and therefore if government gave cash benefits to people in need, those payments would be manipulated, abused, and squandered.
This wasn’t just a story right-wing politicians told to get votes. It transformed policy. The American social safety net has tilted away from cash assistance for those in need and toward prescriptive, confusing, and bureaucratic programs that are harder to access and harder to use. Sure enough, that trend has resulted in people falling through the cracks, some because these convoluted programs weren’t designed for everyone and some because of a lack of knowledge.
And so the idea behind guaranteed income is as bold as it is simple: ignore this multi-generational propaganda campaign and trust people to use money in the ways that best match their needs. The guaranteed income movement says that if the problem is that someone doesn’t have enough money, the simplest solution is, believe it or not, to give them some money.
As I mentioned, we’re joining dozens of other jurisdictions in taking this step, and because we’re several years after that work was begun by visionaries in Stockton, CA and St. Paul, MN, we now have some data. That data shows that these programs work: that in addition to enhancing recipients’ finances, they improve physical and mental health, and are correlated with a greater likelihood of finding and keeping stable employment.
Because the movement is still relatively young, more research is needed, and that’s why I’m so delighted that this pilot is a partnership with Northwestern University, which, in addition to providing a significant portion of the funding, is doing extremely robust research on the outcomes of the program. I’m also thrilled to have the partnership and financial support of the Evanston Community Foundation in this work.
Finally, let’s not forget that the City of Evanston operates on a scale completely different than Chicago and Cook County – and so we’ve had to stand this program up by leaning heavily on a tiny group of already-busy staffers in the Health and Human Services Department and the City Manager’s Office. Thanks so much to them for going the extra mile to make this happen!
I look forward to sharing more updates with you as this program develops, and thank you again for all you do for our community.
Mayor, City of Evanston