The City of Chicago plans to announce today that it will expand a program that helps Chicagoans and their families cover the unexpected costs that arise in the immediate aftermath of a shooting or a homicide, a city official told The Trace. 

The program, which is limited to five neighborhoods, was set to expire when its $275,000 budget ran out. The expansion extends the Emergency Supplemental Victims Fund to 15 neighborhoods. With a $3.2 million annual budget for the next two years, said Stephaney Harris, who administers the program as manager of victim services in Chicago’s Public Health Department, the maximum dollar amount per person will remain $3,500. 

Unlike a similar statewide program, which uses a delayed reimbursement model, the Emergency Supplemental Victims Fund provides survivors with money upfront and pairs them with an organization to walk them through the application. 

“The impact of trauma has financial costs,” Harris said. “We want … to mitigate or reduce the impacts of trauma.”

The program has shown early signs of success. From its launch in December 2022 through September 2023, an analysis by The Trace found that the program approved over 80 percent of applicants, mostly within a week. While advocates praised the program’s ability to provide funds quickly, they lamented having to turn away applicants because the shooting did not occur in one of five neighborhoods.

With the expansion, the city will now reach all 15 high-priority community areas where the highest rates of gun violence occur. In 2024, people injured within these areas, or their families, must apply through a designated organization in each neighborhood before the end of the year. If the shooting occurred elsewhere in the city, they may still be able to apply if they live in the designated neighborhoods.

The coordinators of the program had to make a choice, Harris said: “Do we increase the funding or serve more people?” During this expansion, the goal is to reach more people, she said, but they hope to expand individual payouts in the future.

The department performed extensive training with delegate agencies to create a standardized approach to the application process, Harris said, and will have monthly meetings to ensure quality control, but also to adjust the program if any concerns arise.

It will continue to gather data on the program, she added, to show its effectiveness and use Chicago Police Department incident numbers to make sure the application process is running smoothly. 

“The need is so great,” said Kareyonai Johnson, director of violence prevention at Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the program’s designated organization in East Garfield Park. Some people who haven’t had the opportunity to benefit from this program, she added, will finally get to do so. They are now strategizing on ways to raise awareness of the expansion within their community.

In 2023, children and young adults under 30 made up almost half of Chicago homicides, so the program is setting aside funds specifically for families who lost children and young adults 24 and under to any kind of homicide, anywhere in the city. That funding will be administered by Chicago Survivors, an organization that provides support to families who have lost loved ones to violence. 

Applicants can request $1,000 to cover basic needs, like rent, groceries, and medical expenses, and another $1,000 for relocation. Family members can apply for an additional $1,500 for funeral expenses. For basic needs, funds go directly to applicants, and for relocation and funeral costs, they go directly to service providers. People can apply regardless of immigration status, but are ineligible if they are currently detained in a correctional institution.

Funding for the two-year expansion, $6.4 million in total, comes entirely from the American Rescue Plan Act, federal money first distributed to local governments three years ago to help navigate the pandemic. 

“What we’re trying to do here in the City of Chicago, it takes a village,” Harris said. “The exorbitant costs of supporting families during the most traumatic time in their lives need not fully rest on the back of the CDPH.” She said coordinators are looking for ways to diversify the source of the funding, and for other organizations to create their own versions of the program, as well. The plan, she said, is to continue expanding beyond 2025.