Chicago Could See More Than $1.6 Billion In Federal Money For COVID-19 Relief, Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears at a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. Today, she gave updates on the expected money the city could see from the federal government. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears at a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. Today, she gave updates on the expected money the city could see from the federal government. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Chicago Could See More Than $1.6 Billion In Federal Money For COVID-19 Relief, Mayor Lori Lightfoot Says

Chicago could be in line for more than $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money for COVID-19 relief, according to estimates from the mayor’s office.

The money would flow through a variety of channels, including the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Lori Lightfoot cautioned that the numbers are only estimates and won’t be finalized for months.

“The situation remains very fluid,” Lightfoot said. “We won’t have a full picture of the impact until some time after the stay-at-home order is lifted.”

In a conference call with reporters, city budget director Susie Park said a handful of federal agencies have already notified the city with some specific numbers, but they’re waiting for more information.

About $550 million would flow directly to the city and of that, budget officials estimate $470 million would be available for any expenses related to the COVID-19 response. An additional $100 million would be earmarked for specific programs aimed at seniors, the homeless and the unemployed.

The Chicago Transit Authority could get up to $800 million, officials said. The CTA announced Thursday they would be moving all farecard machines to the back of city buses so that passengers can enter through the rear door. The measure allows for increased social distancing between drivers and riders.

The Chicago Public Schools expects to get around $205 million. Officials said they anticipate the city’s airports and the Chicago Housing Authority will also benefit from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but they did not provide any estimates in those areas.

The mayor faced an $838 million shortfall when she began balancing her 2020 budget last year. Lightfoot said Thursday that while some revenue streams are taking a big hit, others are up.

“Clearly some businesses are dramatically impacted by the shutdown. The obvious ones being restaurants, bars, hotels,” Lightfoot said. “On the other side of that spectrum, some businesses are actually having record weeks and record months. So the yin and the yang of this will be something that we will continue to focus on.”

Several of the steps she took to close that gap are likely to be impacted by the state’s stay-at-home order, like an added tax on restaurant bills and an increase to downtown parking meter rates. One measure — a congestion tax on Uber and Lyft rides — appears to still be on track as of the end of March, according to budget director Susie Park.

“As soon as this [pandemic] started to hit, people started moving more to ride-share than they had before so that’s actually a number that’s up,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said she has no plans to start cutting city departments or laying off city workers.

“If we shrink and put people out on the street, we’re going to exacerbate an already difficult time,” she said.

The mayor and her budget team said they are still sorting through how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the city’s finances into the future.

“From an economic standpoint, how we recover and how long it takes, is going to depend upon what the science and the data tell us,” Lightfoot said. “We’re not going to be comfortable coming out of these closures, until we have a better sense that we’re going to be able to do a much larger scale of testing than what we have right now.”

In Chicago’s annual budget forecast, officials always put forward positive, negative and neutral projections for the coming years. In the most recent budget forecast, the best case scenario for 2021 is a deficit of $900 million. The worst-case scenario puts the city’s shortfall at $1.6 billion.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.