Guaranteed income or cash transfer programs have often been designed as resources to help pay unexpected medical bills or rent.
But now a group of doctors are presenting the program not only as an anti-poverty strategy, but also as an anti-violence strategy. They argue that implementing these programs could actually reduce different forms of violence in the city.
The city approved a plan in its 2022 budget promising $500 a month to 5,000 low-income households for one year. Applications for the program will open in April.
To see: Resilient Communities Pilot Project in Chicago on chicago.gov
Dr. Tanya Zakrison came to this conclusion through her work as Professor of Surgery and Director of Critical Trauma Research at UChicago Medicine. Zakrison said the primary mechanism of injury the trauma center sees is gun violence — which is unusual compared to other centers.
“A lot of it has to do with the survival economy, where people are really living on the edge hand-to-mouth,” Zakrison said. “You see how economic inequality has a part to play in the direct violence we see every day.”
This marginalization can also lead to social distress that puts people in positions to engage in activities they otherwise wouldn’t do, said Dr. Eric Reinhart, a resident physician at Northwestern University and an anthropologist and psychoanalyst at Harvard University.
“I see patients every day who are involved in violence either as victims or as perpetrators and often both.” said Reinhart. “And they don’t want to be involved in these things, but their own ability to regulate their lives is severely limited by economic marginalization.”
Implementing cash transfer programs could enable people to live the lives “that they really want to pursue,” Reinhart said.
However, these programs are not intended to solve larger systemic problems on their own.
“If you give someone $500, but you don’t regulate increases in housing costs of several hundred dollars, you negate the benefit,” Reinhart said. “It is very important that cash transfer programs are not seen as a panacea, but as a complement to broader investment in strong public systems.”
This approach is helping to redefine public safety. Dr. Lea Hoefer, a general surgery resident at UChicago Medicine, said the idea of what public safety is today doesn’t work as expected, when looking at incarceration rates. These impacts are compounded by the lack of jobs for incarcerated people once they return to the community, leaving little room for economic growth.
Instead, Hoefer said public safety should take a more holistic approach to public service, focusing on needs like safe and affordable housing, clean water, access to education and to job opportunities.
“That’s what we want to focus on is that safety means building communities over time — and all communities, across our city, across our country, and around the world,” Hoefer said. .