Aldermen Debate CARES Act Money As Lightfoot Launches City Relief Plan

City Hall
View of City Hall and the County Building on May, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
City Hall
View of City Hall and the County Building on May, 2019. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Aldermen Debate CARES Act Money As Lightfoot Launches City Relief Plan

Chicago households left out of the COVID-19 federal stimulus package may now be eligible for $1,000 from a new private fund Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday.

The news came on the same day City Council members debated how to distribute more than $1.1 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act. Chicago is also now grappling with a $700 million budget shortfall for 2020, according to the mayor’s office.

“We have to stay the course and double down or triple down our commitment to making sure that every single neighborhood in the city is able to participate in the richness of the city,” Lightfoot said at a news conference announcing the $1,000 cash payments for roughly 300,000 city residents left out of the CARES Act. That includes undocumented immigrants and the formerly incarcerated.

Applications to the $5 million “Chicago Resiliency Fund” will open on June 22. The program is being funded by private donations and will be administered by The Resurrection Project and Open Society Foundations.

As Lightfoot announced the new initiative, aldermen on the City Council Committee on Budget and Government Operations peppered the mayor’s financial team and department heads with questions about how they plan to distribute the $1.1 billion Chicago is getting from the CARES Act. The Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Housing Authority also got separate allocations from the federal stimulus package.

During the committee hearing, city budget director Susie Park told aldermen that about $333 million of the city’s CARES Act money will be used to help cover the salaries of employees who were redeployed to do coronavirus-related work over the past few months.

A few aldermen wanted to know how much money would be going to the police department.

“I would feel a lot more comfortable voting for this if we had a clear commitment from the administration that… this money isn’t going to be used to allow for additional policing, but that rather this money could be used to up things like rental assistance and other forms of COVID-19-related relief,” said Carlos Ramirez Rosa, 35th Ward.

Park said they are still reviewing personnel records to determine what work can be classified as COVID-related, but she noted the $333 million didn’t include police officers.

Ramirez Rosa and Michael Rodriguez, 22nd Ward, ultimately voted against the measure to funnel the federal money to various city departments, including the two airports, the public health department and the housing department.

City officials also said they are setting aside $40 million dollars for a possible fall resurgence in COVID-19 cases.