Video: Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks about her $16.7 billion budget proposal. (Produced by Alex Silets)
As Chicago emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told WTTW News on Monday that city officials must be “bold and transformative” to address not only the immediate damage caused by the pandemic but also the city’s longstanding woes.
The city’s 2022 spending plan is designed to help Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, Lightfoot said Monday on “Chicago Tonight.”
“We’ve got to be bold and transformative in the investment that we make to make a real difference not only today and tomorrow but into the future,” Lightfoot said. “We have real immediate needs that are met by investments that we propose, but we are also making long-term bets on our neighborhoods and our downtown area, to stimulate business activity, to make sure that we are providing jobs and opportunities all across the city, that we are deepening our commitment to … mental health, and supporting our young people and also those who are most vulnerable, our seniors, those who are currently facing food insecurity and a whole other host of issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We’ve got to do both and, and that’s what this budget proposes.”
Lightfoot’s proposal sets aside $1.3 billion, or about 68% of the city’s share of federal relief funds, to cover the cost of providing city services and paying city workers in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic and make up for revenue lost during the economic collapse.
Despite calls from some progressive members of the Chicago City Council to use all $1.9 billion in federal relief funds for direct aid for struggling Chicagoans, the mayor said her proposal strikes the “right balance.”
The spending plan addresses calls from progressive groups to spend more on mental health services, affordable housing programs and helping unhoused Chicagoans, Lightfoot said.
“This is truly a resiliency and recovery budget,” Lightfoot said. “This is a budget that should win overwhelming support from the members of the City Council.”
The mayor’s proposal sets aside $31.5 million to be used to fund a pilot program that would make direct cash payments to “hard-hit, low-income households in need of additional economic stability.”
That would launch the largest direct cash assistance program in the United States, Lightfoot said.
“There are so many families that are sitting around tables, like mine did, with their bills spread out, trying to figure out how they are going to juggle the limited dollars that they have,” Lightfoot said. “Then a curveball happens that could lead to financial ruin.”
Having an extra $500 per month for these families could stave off “financial ruin,” Lightfoot said.
“It is extraordinary what we have been going through, so we have to use extraordinary tools to meet the needs of our residents,” Lightfoot said.
However, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) said in a separate interview with “Chicago Tonight” on Monday that he was frustrated that Lightfoot took a proposal that he introduced in April and incorporated it into her budget after blocking its consideration.
“I’m glad it is in the budget now, but we are five months past the introduction of the ordinance, which means that we could have been five months into a pilot program,” Villegas said. “Let’s move forward, so we can get cash in people’s hands.”
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) led efforts to block Villegas’ plan for direct cash payments, saying that such a program should not move forward until the city pays reparations to the descendants of enslaved African Americans.
“I do have some concerns about just handing out checks to individuals in such a way without any accountability,” Ervin said. “I’m willing to look at it and see how it is going to improve the lives of people.”
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) said she was pleased that the mayor included funds in her budget to help those returning to Chicago from jail and prison, but suggested that the program get more than $10 million.
The city should also beef up funds for youth programs and mental health services, Mitts said.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) said the mayor’s budget proposal “falls woefully short” of adequately funding the Chicago Police Department.
“This budget is basically a collection of smoke and mirrors,” Lopez said.