The City of Evanston has launched a guaranteed income program that will randomly select 150 eligible applicants to receive $500 a month for a year — no strings attached — on a prepaid debit card.
The city hosted one of three information sessions from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Levy Senior Center, answering questions and helping residents complete applications for the program.
Mayor Daniel Biss opened the briefing by saying that this program is the city that agrees that its responsibility “is to support our residents and not to tell our residents how to support themselves.”
There was a lot of interest and Biss said many applications were received. “But as we keep telling people, it’s not first come, first served. We therefore encourage anyone interested to apply before the August 29 deadline.
Alison Leipsiger, Program Policy Coordinator, led the presentation. She pointed out that for the 150 Evanston residents chosen, there will be no restrictions on how the money is spent.
“That’s the goal of the program. It’s not like general assistance, where you can’t spend money on certain things like alcohol or tobacco,” Leipsiger said. “You can withdraw cash. You can deposit it to another bank account. You could do whatever you want.
The $500 per month is not taxable and is considered a donation. The first payment will be distributed on November 1.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible, all applicants must be:
- A resident of Evanston, who is
- Household income is equal to or less than 250% of the federal poverty leveli.e. $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.
In addition to these requirements, you must also belong to one of the following three groups:
- 18-24 years old
- 62 or older
- A member of the undocumented community
Anyone who can be declared dependent on someone else – i.e. dependent on someone else for housing, food, education, etc. – is not eligible. Leipsider noted that Northwestern University students living in Evanston and fully supported by their families are not the target group for this program. But 18 to 24 year olds who live without financial support are eligible.
What do I need to apply?
If you are chosen to participate, you will be asked to provide proof of Evanston residency, proof of income and proof of age.
Applicants must submit their most recent tax return. (The city asks applicants to black out their Social Security and bank account numbers when submitting.)
For those who do not earn enough to file their tax returns, this requirement will be waived.
Will I lose other city benefits?
If you wish to apply but are already receiving federal funds from WIC, the Federal Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or for Housing Assistance and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), these benefits may be compromised. WIC recipients will lose their benefits if they take guaranteed income funds.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers this benefit 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 this is less likely. The Social Security Administration has sent the City of Chicago written confirmation that SSI recipients receiving the Guaranteed Income Benefit will not have their SSI income affected. But the city of Evanston is waiting for the same letter.
If Evanston residents on SSI are chosen in the Guaranteed Income Lottery and lose their benefits, the city will represent them in court for free.
How does the process work?
After randomly selecting 150 eligible applications, the City will contact recipients by phone. If they don’t respond within two weeks, the benefits will go to the next person.
Beneficiaries will be asked to follow a “benefits council” with the city. City employees will talk to people about the impact of guaranteed income on their other benefits.
Northwest Research Component
The first 150 beneficiaries will be part of the initiative’s pilot program, and Northwestern University researchers will study the program’s impact with willing participants.
“We really don’t care how you spend the money. And we’re going to remove all identifying factors,” said Jess Thomas, research project manager.
The goal of the study is to understand how receiving or not receiving this benefit will impact an individual’s mental health, emotional health and more.
If you are selected for a benefit card, you are not required 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 compare people who receive the money to those who don’t as well as the impact of the program.
Learn more about the Guaranteed Income Program here.