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233,000 People Applied For 3,250 Spots In Cook County’s $500-A-Month Guaranteed Income Pilot Program

Recipients will be chosen by lottery in mid-November, with payments expected to begin in December.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks as officials gather for a press conference on the first day of inoculations at the United Center mass vaccination site in the Near West Side neighborhood on March 9, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — More than 230,000 people applied to a county program for guaranteed income — which has just 3,250 spots.

The Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot will send monthly payments of $500 to 3,250 residents for two years. Interest exploded during the application window Oct. 6-21, with 233,154 applicants by the end, according to the county.

Recipients will be chosen by lottery in mid-November, according to the county. Payments are expected to begin in December.

The median household income of an applicant is $15,000, and the average household that applied has two and a half people, according to the county. More than one-third of applicants are unemployed, more than one-fourth delayed medical care last year due to cost and 10 percent reported unstable housing situations, according to the county.

Participants must be at least 18 years old, a Cook County resident and have a household income at or below 250 percent the federal poverty level. People could apply regardless of immigration status.

In the coming weeks, 10,000 applicants will be selected via lottery for the next round and asked to verify their information, the county said. After that, the pool will be whittled down to the final 3,250 recipients.

Residents who applied are encouraged to respond to texts from 312-598-2180 and emails from People can also check their status using the link from the confirmation message they received upon submitting an application, according to the county.

“The overwhelming response from our residents speaks to the need being felt in all our communities at this unique time in history,” board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a news release.

The $42 million for guaranteed income is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the Biden administration’s measure to provide direct relief to citizens who faced setbacks during the pandemic.

Cook County’s plan comes on the heels of a city program that recently began sending $500 monthly checks to 5,000 families. More than 176,000 Chicago households had applied for the city’s cash assistance.

Six outreach groups engaged with diverse communities to tell residents how to apply to the county program, according to the news release. More than 25 in-person events were held during the application period, and assistance was available in 12 languages, according to the county.

A goal of the pilot is to “learn how guaranteed income impacts participants, as well as the local economy and community,” according to the county. University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy and Practice will research and evaluate the program.

“Guaranteed Income programs hold promise for improving economic mobility and promoting racial equity,” Carmelo Barbaro, executive director of the Inclusive Economy Lab, said in a previous news release. “To expand these programs locally and nationally we need to generate evidence about the most effective ways to distribute dollars and how families leverage these programs to achieve their goals.”

Cook County has committed to support the guaranteed income program beyond its pilot with county funds and philanthropic support, Preckwinkle said previously.

The “two-year pilot is the largest publicly funded guaranteed income initiative in American history,” Preckwinkle said.

“[W]e look forward to providing a stable financial foundation for our residents who need help the most,” Preckwinkle said.

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