May 30, 2024

City Council members slam Johnson plan to use $95 million in COVID funds for migrant shelters – NBC Chicago

Several members of the Chicago City Council are blasting Mayor Brandon Johnson’s plan to allocate $95 million of COVID emergency funds to help address concerns about migrant housing in the city.

Johnson said that the decision came because of a budget surplus, and that he has authority as mayor to defer federal COVID funds toward the migrant crisis, but several members of the council disagree.

“We’re playing a shell game with millions of dollars, while the people of Chicago are hurting,” Ald. Anthony Beale said. “COVID relief money was supposed to go toward relief for the people of Chicago, not migrants who are migrating to our city. It is supposed to help businesses, people who lost loved ones, and resources we lost during the COVID pandemic.”

According to city officials, Chicago has mobilized 27 shelters to assist the nearly 15,000 asylum seekers that have arrived in Chicago since Aug. 2022. With costs skyrocketing, Johnson said that drastic measures would have to be undertaken as he called for additional federal help.

“This is unsustainable,” he said. “None of our local economies are positioned to carry out such a mission. We’ve attempted to create some structure and order around this crisis, but (Texas Gov. Greg) Abbott is determined to sow seeds of chaos.”

Johnson’s administration says the scope of the response effort has enabled them to legally use the $95 million in funding for migrant-related expenditures, but the City Council says their oversight role is being passed over.

“What we have to do is we need to improve our ability to do oversight on our migrant spending,” Ald. Bill Conway said. “I take our role as a responsible steward of taxpayer money very seriously. $95 million is a ton of money. We need to make sure we have proper oversight of those dollars.”

Conway pointed to lack of communication over locations of migrant shelters in wards, as well as with contracts issued to companies like GardaWorld and Favored Staffing, as more evidence that the Johnson administration isn’t being forthright with their plans.

Ald. Scott Waguespack echoed similar concerns, saying that there has been a rollback of transparency after the administration of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“We knew we needed $150 million to deal with the migrant situation,” he said. “He’s pulling $95 million from something. In the last administration, we voted for everything (with COVID money).”

The city said that the funding would go toward “leases for shelters, food services and shelter staffing” in a statement issued last week, but members of the City Council are expected to call for a hearing to determine whether Johnson has the authority to allocate those funds without approval.

“My problem here is that we don’t know exactly how they’re going to spend that money,” Waugespack said.

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