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Cook County’s guaranteed income plan draws 206,000 applicants

More than 200,000 people put their names in for Cook County’s guaranteed income pilot program.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle didn’t sound surprised by that figure, telling reporters Thursday that more than one-third of the county was eligible for the program “and lots are in need at this difficult moment.”

Applications were accepted through Friday, with 206,000 people submitting them by Thursday, a county official said. Among those eligible, the county will choose 3,250 recipients by lottery who will be notified in mid-November, with the first payments going out by the end of January.

The program is limited to those 18 or older with a household income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level — about $45,000 for a family of two and $81,000 for a family of five. The two-year program is funded with $42 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

Preckwinkle has pledged to continue the program after its two-year run, and has suggested revenues from cannabis taxes might help fund it going forward. The county estimates cannabis taxes will generate $13.2 million by the end of the year, a number expected to grow on average 13% annually through 2027, as more dispensaries launch. Preckwinkle says she will “look for other revenue streams to meet the need.”

Preckwinkle is up for reelection in November for a fourth term leading the 17-member board. Her Republican challenger is former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti.

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Chicago’s guaranteed income pilot garnered more than 176,000 applications. Payments to 5,000 recipients ultimately chosen by lottery started this month. Both programs are being studied by the University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab for outcomes.

Cook County is separately studying the cost of providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave for its full-time employees. That follows Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pledge to increase Chicago’s paid leave policy up to 12 weeks for birthing, non-birthing, surrogate, foster or adoptive parents. The current policy offers four to six weeks for the birthing parent and two weeks for the non-birthing parent.

The county now provides four weeks of paid leave for a birthing parent who has a nonsurgical delivery, and six weeks for a surgical delivery. Non-birthing parents are entitled to two weeks. Adoptive parents are entitled to two weeks of paid leave.

The resolution asking for a study of the fiscal impact on the county was introduced today by Commissioner Bridget Degnen, a Chicago Democrat, and co-sponsored by nine other members of the board, a majority. Increasing paid leave already has Preckwinkle’s support.

“I’m a mother myself, not to mention a grandmother, so I believe in parental leave,” Preckwinkle told reporters Thursday. “I’d like to be able to offer this benefit to both our exempt and union employees at the same time, and we’re trying to figure out how to manage that.”

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