CHICAGO — County officials launched a new $2.1 million cash assistance program for suburban Cook County residents facing hardships related to the coronavirus pandemic Monday.
Funded by the federal CARES Act, the program provides a one-time cash payment of $600 to help low-income residents with expenses such as rent and food. County leaders see the program as the quickest way to alleviate the burden of the pandemic.
“Direct cash transfers have a strong track record and are proven to lessen economic vulnerability,” said Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller (6th District).
The program is not available to Chicago residents, and applicants must prove they are suffering economic hardship due to COVID-19 and they were low-income before the pandemic hit in March.
“It was important to focus on the suburbs because you also don’t have the same type of nonprofit infrastructure that you see in the city of Chicago. It is much more sparse and resources are harder to come by,” said Ebony Scott of the Family Independence Initiative, which is administering the program.
Scott said the need is vast as Illinois enters the second wave of Covid, since money people received months ago through federal stimulus payments is long gone and staying safe requires cash.
“In the winter months ahead, COVID-19 will continue to be a tremendous stress on our community,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “People are choosing between buying groceries or paying bills.”
The program is expected to help about 3,000 families, just a small portion of those who need assistance during the pandemic. Brown said similar programs received 3-4 times the number of applicants than the funding can support.
The cash assistance program opened Monday and will stop taking applications on November 6.
“Just because someone lives with a low income, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have choice and control over their situation and so by providing direct cash, you actually allow families to specifically get the things that they need,” Scott said.
The latest numbers from Illinois health officials show a 7-day rolling average positivity rate of 7.5 percent in Chicago and 7.7 percent in suburban Cook County. Both figures eclipse the statewide positivity rate of 6.1 percent reported yesterday.
Preckwinkle said Monday it’s time for federal leaders to take action on the pandemic.
“We once again call on our federal partners for action but in the face of these troubling times, we in local government must move forward. We must do what we can with what we have,” Preckwinkle said.
Residents can apply for relief at Cook County’s website here.