By Kate Seamons
You hear about them every so often: pilot programs that give a select group of people a guaranteed income for a specific amount of time in a quest to see if such an approach can make a difference in the fight against poverty. In a deep dive for Chicago Magazine, Elly Fishman looks at how such a program—the Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot—impacted one of the 5,000 people who participated in it beginning in May 2022. Zinida Moore, then 41, is a single mom to three (then ages 23, 16, and 11). She was one of 175,000 people who applied to get tax-free payments of $500 for one year, and with an income of about $55,000, she came in under the cap of $70,000 for a family of her size. That income came via an exhausting work schedule: a Walmart shift from 10pm to 7am, followed by another at the Dollar Tree from 7:30am to 1:30pm.
As Fishman writes, by working multiple jobs Moore made enough to pay for all the necessities, but she feared “one emergency could quickly spiral her into even deeper debt.” Fishman charts how Moore used the money: She was able to pay for the $630 in cheerleading gear her teen daughter needed. Her kids’ typically spartan Christmas was transformed. She bought a bed frame. Moore also paid off $900 in outstanding gas and electricity bills and prepaid her rent by three months. Her credit score jumped from 524 to 697. “People don’t want a handout,” says the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services of the program. “They just want a little bit of lift and a little bit of breathing room.”