• Alex Nitkin
    JUN 23, 2021

    Aldermen hit back at plan to delay spending federal aid until fall: ‘these needs do not allow us to wait’

    Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) speaks during a Right to Recovery news conference in Daley Plaza Tuesday morning [Facebook/Chicago Democratic Socialists of America]

    A dozen progressive aldermen rolled out a pitch on Tuesday to spend $1.9 billion in incoming federal aid on childcare supports, housing assistance, non-police violence prevention and a host of other city resources designed to help the city’s most vulnerable.

    The “Chicago Rescue Plan” (O2021-2860) represents a prebuttal to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s long-awaited blueprint for how the city should spend its share of the $350 billion in state and local aid Congress enacted in March through the American Rescue Plan.

    But any plan to quickly pass along the influx of federal funds will face resistance from city finance officials and Ald. Pat Dowell (3), who chairs the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations. Dowell plans to convene "small group meetings" with aldermen during the summer so that City Council can fold the stimulus into the fabric of the city’s 2022 budget, she told The Daily Line on Tuesday.

    Dowell’s preferred timeline is shared by city Budget Director Susie Park, who wrote a memo to aldermen on Tuesday that she is “looking forward to our discussions through the Budget Working Group meetings that will begin in July and run throughout the summer in order to take feedback on your views on how [American Rescue Plan] dollars should be spent.”

    “In an effort to accelerate the application of these [American Rescue Plan] dollars to Chicagoans while allowing time for engagement with our residents and members of the City Council, we will be working on the allocation of the [federal relief funds] and the 2022 budget simultaneously,” Park wrote in the memo obtained by The Daily Line. She added that Lightfoot plans to introduce her budget proposal in mid-September, a month earlier than normal.

    “By considering all of the revenue and expenditures at the same time, we will provide a complete view of the City’s investments,” Park wrote. 

    Dowell noted that the federal government is only set to deliver about $943 million of the aid package to the city this year, with the other half due next year.

    “We have to be very thoughtful and deliberate about how we’re spending this money, because we’re not getting it all at once, and we don’t know when we’ll get something like this again,” Dowell said. She added that she plans to convene the "series of small group meetings” after the July 4 holiday to reconcile spending proposals brought by aldermen and Lightfoot’s administration. 

    “It deserves a longer process,” Dowell said. “We have to be careful about how it’s spent, which is why it’s important to hear from the administration and from the City Council.”

     A sizable share of the council disagrees with that approach.

    “The federal government sent these dollars to us so that we would put them out as expeditiously as possible to our neighbors…to keep people’s lives from falling deeper into despair,” Ald. Daniel La Spata (1) said during a news conference organized by the Right to Recovery Coalition Tuesday morning. The group comrpises SEIU Healthcare, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, GoodKids MadCity and others.

    La Spata is the lead sponsor of the Chicago Rescue Plan ordinance. The measure has 11 co-sponsors: Ald. Sophia King (4), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Micheal Rodriguez (22), Ald. Maria Hadden (49), Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), Ald. Andre Vasquez (40), Ald. Matt Martin (47), Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20).

    The ordinance would dedicate the largest share of the federal aid package to the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, which would be directed to spend about $331 million on “additional eligibility for child care,” $57 million for domestic violence prevention programs, $30 million for youth employment and $90 million for direct cash assistance for people who were not eligible for federal stimulus checks.

    Its next-largest allocation would go to the Department of Housing, which would be directed to spend $75 million for “Affordable Housing Building Decarbonization Assistance Funds,” $50 million for a pilot program to preserve single-room occupancy hotels, $85 million to permanently house people experiencing homelessness, $45 million to preserve existing affordable housing and $40 million to convert motels to “affordable or supportive housing.

    The aldermen want to provide another $293 million to the Department of Public Health, including $100 million for a non-police emergency response program and an additional $100 million to open 10 new mental health clinics.

    The Chicago Rescue Plan notably omits any direct funding for the Chicago Police Department. La Spata and other supporters of the ordinance blasted Lightfoot’s move last year to set aside $281 million from the March 2020 CARES Act to reimburse the police department for personnel expenses.

    Related: Budget director defends spending federal dollars on CPD as aldermen approve new COVID-related grants

    But the ordinance proposes a host of other uses for American Rescue Plan funds, including $226 million to relieve water bill debt, $40 million for small business relief, $50 million for a guaranteed basic income pilot program and $50 million to expand electric vehicle charging stations. Smaller line items include $3.6 million to “restore service covenants” at Mercy Hospital and $2 million for Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to build a catalog of historic police misconduct complaints.

    “These are needs that do not allow us to wait,” La Spata said Tuesday. “We were not given these dollars to sit on them.”

    Dowell disagreed, saying “the city has committed a great deal of money during COVID for various programs the aldermen have suggested” thanks to previous federal stimulus. She pointed to the current $80 million round of the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was furnished by a relief package Congress passed in December.

    Lightfoot has offered few clues at how she wants to spend the $1.9 billion, but she has signaled a lack of interest in a proposal (O2021-1564) by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36) to set aside a portion of the money for a guaranteed income pilot. Aldermanic Black Caucus Chair Ald. Jason Ervin (28) diverted Villegas’ plan to the council’s Committee on Committee and Rules in April, saying the city needs to address reparations for Black Chicagoans before considering a widespread payment program.


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