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Aldermen Burke, Lopez Delay City Council Vote On Mayor Lightfoot's Plan For $377 Million In Federal COVID-19 Relief Funds

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Two aldermen stalled Mayor Lori Lightfoot's plans to use $377 million in unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds, prompting the mayor's allies to call a hasty end to Wednesday's City Council meeting, and bring the council back on Friday to vote on the measure.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) used a parliamentary maneuver to delay final approval of that funding until the next City Council meeting. Minutes later, Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th) moved to set the date of the next City Council meeting for Friday at 3 p.m.

Lightfoot said the $377 million in federal grants include $179 million for the Chicago Department of Public Health's response to the pandemic, and $79.8 million for the Department of Housing for rental assistance programs. The plan also included transferring $68 million in unspent grants from last year to the 2021 budget.

After Wednesday's meeting, Lightfoot scolded Burke, in particular, for holding up the spending plan, saying he had "ample opportunity to address whatever issues or concerns" he might have.

The mayor said her budget director, Susie Park, held briefings for aldermen on how her administration would be using the federal grants in question, but he didn't attend any of them.

"In a time where people are hurting and bearing an inordinate burden, what we need is progress, not parliamentary tactics, not with thousands of our residents still in desperate need of critical supports that the city can provide through dollars that come to us from the federal government," she said.

The mayor said, although the city is continuing to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic, many residents and businesses are still struggling to pay basic bills like rent.

"We were poised to address some of these issues today, but unfortunately that step … was paused because of a delay tactic by two aldermen," she said.

The mayor's use of COVID-19 relief funds prompted criticism from many aldermen in recent days, after it was revealed the Lightfoot administration spent $281.5 million in CARES Act money on police payroll.

Some progressive aldermen and community groups had lashed out at the mayor for using the majority of the city's discretionary funding from the federal COVID-19 relief plan to cover police costs rather than using that money on programs to help people struggling during the pandemic.

Lightfoot has defended using federal relief funds to reimburse CPD for payroll costs during the pandemic, saying the criticism she's faced is "just dumb."

The city received approximately $470 million in federal funding from the CARES Act in 2020 to help reimburse the city for costs related to the pandemic. Lightfoot said the city took advantage of that funding to cover $281.5 million in Chicago Police Department payroll costs related to the pandemic.

Without using that money, Chicago would have been faced with an even bigger budget deficit than the combined $2 billion shortfall for 2020 and 2021 that Lightfoot's office announced last summer.

"We saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by saying yes to the federal government. So should we have said no? 'No, no, no, no, no, federal government, we'll incur this expense, we'll put this burden entirely on city of Chicago taxpayers and you can take your money elsewhere.' That would be foolish, and of course we didn't do that," she said last week.

However, Burke has questioned whether the Chicago Police Department could really have racked up such high costs on COVID-19 related duties alone last spring. He noted the $281.5 million amounts to about a third of CPD's entire 2021 budget for the patrol division.

"I just have a hard time with your numbers," Burke said earlier this week at a Budget Committee meeting.

Lightfoot said she's confident her plan for the $377 million in federal COVID-19 relief grants will be approved on Friday.

The adjournment of Wednesday's meeting came before aldermen had the opportunity to formally introduce new legislation at Wednesday's meeting. Before Mitchell moved to adjourn the meeting, Lopez had moved to keep going with the rest of the day's business, but was voted down.

That means several City Council committee reports and new legislation aldermen planned to introduce on Wednesday also will have to wait until Friday afternoon.

In other business on Wednesday, aldermen approved:

  • A $175,000 settlement for Ashanti Franklin and her family, whose home was wrongly raided by Chicago Police officers in 2017. Officers broke down the door to the wrong apartment, and the target of their raid actually lived in the garden apartment beneath the Franklins' apartment.
  • A $400,000 settlement with Pamela Anderson, whose 33-year-old mentally ill son, James Anderson, was shot and killed by police in September 2015. City attorneys have said, although the shooting was ruled to be justified, the city was still at risk if the case went to trial, because a defense expert might have convinced a jury that the officer who shot Anderson unnecessarily put himself in a position to use deadly force by not first calling a sergeant to the scene, requesting someone trained in crisis intervention, or talking to James through a bedroom door rather than engaging him in a confined space without knowing how dangerous or violent he was.
  • A 100-year agreement with the city of Joliet to supply Lake Michigan drinking water. Joliet will pay the entire $600 million to $800 million cost of a 31-mile pipeline and other infrastructure upgrades to tap into Chicago's water supply. The deal will generate $24 million to $37 million a year in revenue for Chicago once Joliet begins using Chicago drinking water in 2030.
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