The Chicago City Council voted 26-23 on Wednesday to approve Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to use $12.5 million in city funds to give away prepaid gas cards and CTA passes.
The program was approved by just one vote — with Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) absent after she announced she had COVID-19 — after several members blasted Lightfoot’s plan as an election-year stunt that would benefit oil companies without offering Chicagoans real relief from the pain at the pump.
The plan calls for the distribution of 50,000 prepaid cards that will cover $150 worth of gas as well as 100,000 passes that will cover $50 worth of CTA rides.
After the City Council’s Budget Committee narrowly approved the plan on April 20, setting up Wednesday’s decisive vote, the mayor’s office significantly expanded the number of neighborhoods whose residents will get priority for the assistance. It was not clear why such a significant change did not require the measure to be sent back for a committee hearing.
Those changes appeared to be enough to win the votes of Ald. Debra Silverstein, whose Far North Side 50th Ward will now be included in the priority area, and Ald. Derrick Curtis (8th Ward), whose South Side ward is now included. Both voted against the plan when it came before the committee.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward) also changed his vote.
Shortly before the razor-thin vote, Lightfoot urged City Council members not just to focus on what was best for their ward, but what was best for the whole city.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said the City Council should do everything possible to help those struggling with high gas prices and spiraling inflation.
“When we are giving $3 million to the food depository and [$7.5 million] for gas cards something is off,” Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward.)
The CTA passes would pay for approximately five full-fare round trips and the gas cards would cover two tanks of gas.
Other alderpeople said the $12.5 million should have been used to improve the safety and security if the CTA system, which has yet to see ridership rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
Most Chicagoans — who live on “planet reality” — have to drive to work and school, Lightfoot said.
The revision made public Wednesday is just the latest change Lightfoot made to push it through the City Council.
Originally, Lightfoot told reporters that the lottery for the gas and transit cards would be open to all Chicagoans who earn no more than 140% of the area median income — which is $91,000 for an individual and $140,000 for a family of four.
But alderpeople objected to that plan, and the plan limits the program to those who earn no more than 100% of the area median income, which is $65,300 for an individual or $93,200 for a family of four.
In all, the proposal would use $7.5 million for the prepaid gas cards and $5 million for the CTA passes.
The proposal was also changed to give residents of parts of the city where public transportation is not accessible or is the only option priority for both the gas cards and the CTA passes in response to concerns lodged by alderpeople. Those neighborhoods will get $5.6 million worth of the gas cards and $3.75 million worth of the CTA cards.
The cards, which look like a debit card from the bank of Chicago emblazoned with the city’s iconic skyline, will feature Lightfoot’s name, less than 10 months before she is expected to ask voters for a second term.
Lightfoot campaigned for mayor in 2019 as a reformer who would root out the corruption and self-dealing entrenched at Chicago City Hall. For decades, Chicago politicians slapped their name on nearly every piece of public infrastructure possible, including toll roads, airport welcome signs and road barriers.
The average cost of a gallon of gas is $4.79 in Chicago, according to AAA. A month ago, a gallon of gas cost $4.87. One year ago, a gallon of gas was $3.41.
For more information about the program, go to chicago.gov/ChicagoMoves or call 312-742-3317.