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Task Force Charged With Looking at Universal Basic Income Wants to Hear From Chicagoans

The task force wants to hear from Chicago communities and stakeholders in order to figure out how a pilot program to offer no-strings-attached payments to Chicago families could work.

Ald. Ameya Pawar
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CHICAGO — Outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to form a task force to look at how a “universal basic income” pilot program could function in Chicago.

An initial pilot proposal, pitched by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), would see the city give 1,000 residents $500 a month to help pay bills. However, the new task force will not use Pawar’s June proposal as its starting point once it starts meeting.

The Chicago Resilient Families Task Force will be chaired by Pawar and include Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, and Celena Roldan, CEO of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

“We’ll be releasing a full list of the task force, maybe 16 or 18 people, soon,” Pawar said. “We want to bring together a broad based coalition between labor, business and community advocacy organizations.”

On June 27, Pawar, who is not seeking reelection, introduced the resolution for a universal basic income in Chicago which had the support of 35 other alderman from across the city.

“We know that in Stockton, California, they sized and scoped a pilot program with the backing from local stakeholders,” Pawar said. “So rather than this be a top ]pdown process we wanted to make sure the task force has input from communities and stakeholders in Chicago.”

To that end, the Chicago task force is partnering with the Economic Security Project, an advocacy group formed to advance the concept of universal basic income that also assisted with Stockton’s pilot program. Pawar said the advocacy group wants to make sure Chicago’s task force actively seeks input from communities and stakeholders to draft its universal basic income measure.

“The task force will start meeting in the next week or so. And we’ll start meeting shortly after that with people in their communities,” he said. “We’ll be having broader, higher-level discussions but also conversations with people and the community.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office said the new task force would “further modernize the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program for low- to moderate-income city residents” in addition to coming up with a pilot universal basic income program.

“Chicago has the opportunity to lead the way in groundbreaking poverty-reduction programs, and this task force will help us lay the path toward that goal,” Emanuel said.

RELATED: City Hall Stunner: Rahm Emanuel Says He’s Not Running For Re-Election

After the task force’s announcement, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot released a statement in support of a universal basic income program, calling it a “necessary step” alongside raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, cracking down on wage theft and supporting the growth of labor unions.

“Growing up, my family struggled financially even though my father worked two to three jobs at a time and my mother held a series of low-wage positions,” Lightfoot said. “This story is all too familiar in Chicago today, as low-wage workers are unable to support their families and many others face chronic unemployment.”

Rachel Valdez, 28, works as a freelance marketing and social media manager and lives in Rogers Park. She had a baby earlier this year and said if she was able to take part in a universal basic income pilot program she’d put the extra money toward childcare and student loans.

“For me, I’m now working part time and staying home with my child. I’m still paying student loans and hospital bills,” she said. “So it would exponentially help me to put some money in savings instead of everything going out to bills.”

However, Valdez was also curious as to where the funding for the pilot program would come from and wanted to know how the city would measure its success.

“Like how would you know it’s changing the person’s quality of life?” she asked.

Pawar said once the task force’s membership is finalized information on meetings where communities and stakeholders can give their feedback and ask questions will be sent out to the public.

“I think what people miss on this is there are massive childcare costs and incredible student loan debt and a majority of Americans don’t have $1,000 to cover an emergency,” Pawar said. “Some families are often in a position of either putting clean diapers on their child or food on the table.”

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