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It’s time we use common sense to tackle income inequality – by giving people money. 

Today, we’re proud to announce the Cook County Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot. With this $42 million investment, the pilot will be the nation’s largest publicly funded guaranteed income initiative and send $500 monthly payments to 3,250 residents over two years.

This is an historic step as we work to right the wrongs enacted by our predecessors in government. For decades, public policy aimed at combating poverty has been driven by racist stereotypes and a fundamental distrust in people — especially Black people. 

Despite ample evidence that lower-income families spend cash benefits wisely, public officials have all-too-often leaned on false narratives of rampant abuse and embraced nasty tropes about “welfare queens” when talking about assistance for residents.

This isn’t an accident. Government assistance programs have been designed to prioritize jumping through hoops over someone’s urgent and essential needs. Yet, by making it difficult for anyone to apply for or rely on support like housing assistance or food stamps, programs aren’t only less effective, they send a clear message to people that our government just doesn’t trust or value them.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” It’s past time that we live up to this concept and guaranteed income programs provide a roadmap. While this idea has caught on in popularity in recent years, it’s nothing new — especially among racial justice activists. 

The Black Panther Party famously called for guaranteed employment or guaranteed income in the second point of its Ten-Point Platform nearly 60 years ago. And in the final years of his life, Dr. King became a strong advocate for guaranteed income as a method of tackling poverty.

On the local level, we’ve already seen why that old-school approach is both unnecessary and inefficient. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cook County’s emergency cash assistance program was implemented quickly and actually did the thing it set out to do — help keep families afloat. What’s more is that our data shows the vast majority of the money was used to cover housing, food, transportation and medical bills.

In fact, wherever direct cash programs have been tested — in Stockton, Calif., Jackson, Miss., and even here in Chicago — the results speak for themselves. There’s greater economic stability for recipients and it makes people’s lives better. With less financial volatility, individuals have the freedom to set personal goals, take risks and even find full-time employment. And across the board, it leads to better health and educational outcomes. 

No matter how you cut it, guaranteed income empowers people. This is true both for the individuals who benefit and for our collective future. At scale, a program like this has the potential to transform communities and even reduce violence. It’s well established that violent crime is intrinsically tied to poverty and income inequality. 

This program tackles that problem head on. When you reduce desperation, when fewer people have nothing to lose, crime goes down. Drug overdose deaths go down. Our communities are safer. 

Cook County is proud to be leading the way in the American guaranteed-income movement, and this is just the beginning. What we’re talking about today is a pilot program, but make no mistake, we’re not interested in temporary or short-term solutions to the glaring problem of income inequality. This program will be made permanent in the years to come and we believe the results will demand it — just as they have in other pilot programs across the country. 

Let this be a challenge to other local governments. It’s time to invest in guaranteed income because the outcomes make clear that we have the power to change people’s circumstances and lift up entire communities. 

The data is on our side. Let’s put it to work and keep our promise to the people we serve.

Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President

To learn more and receive updates on the pilot, go to 

is the 35th president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, an office she has held since 2010.