Several Chicago City Council members are criticizing Mayor Brandon Johnson’s recent decision to redirect $95 million in COVID-19 emergency funds to support migrant housing initiatives in the city.
Mayor Johnson justified his decision by citing a budget surplus and asserting his mayoral authority to repurpose federal COVID funds for the city’s migrant crisis.
He emphasized the need for drastic actions in light of the overwhelming influx of nearly 15,000 asylum-seeking migrants since August 2022 and the escalating costs associated with their housing.
Johnson stated, “This is unsustainable. 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 Governor Greg] Abbott is determined to sow seeds of chaos.”
For Chicago’s 2023 operations, approximately $152 million had been allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. These funds, provided by the federal government in 2021, were intended to assist local governments in managing financial challenges during the COVID-19 shutdowns.
So far, the city has spent over $138 million on supporting the recent influx of primarily Venezuelan migrants arriving from the southern United States border.
Johnson has also voiced criticism of President Joe Biden’s administration for not allocating more federal funds to address a situation that is anticipated to intensify.
In last week’s statement, Mayor Johnson said, “[W]e are allocating federal funds to deal with a federal problem. By allocating ARPA funding for this mission, we are meeting the city’s financial obligations without cutting the critical services that Chicagoans rely on every day.”
However, Mayor Johnson’s decision to reallocate $95 million in COVID relief funding for migrant issues has faced opposition from council members who contend that these funds were originally designated to provide direct assistance to Chicago’s residents and businesses impacted by the pandemic
Alderman Anthony Beale expressed his concern, stating, “We’re playing a shell game with millions of dollars while the people of Chicago are hurting.”
He stressed that the funds should focus on businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19, not migrants.
Alderman Bill Conway raised questions about overseeing and managing migrant spending, emphasizing the need for responsible stewardship of taxpayer money.
Conway noted, “$95 million is a ton of money. We need to make sure we have proper oversight of those dollars.”
He expressed concerns over the lack of communication regarding the locations of migrant shelters and contracts issued to companies.
Echoing similar sentiments, Alderman Scott Waguespack criticized the Johnson administration for the lack of transparency, comparing it unfavorably to the previous administration under Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Waguespack stated, “We knew we needed $150 million to deal with the migrant situation”.
He continued, “[Johnson is] pulling $95 million from something. In the last administration, we voted for everything (with COVID money).”
The city administration, in a statement, outlined that the funding would cover expenses related to shelter leases, food services, and staffing.
Despite this, members of the City Council are calling for a hearing to scrutinize Mayor Johnson’s authority in allocating these funds without council approval.
Waguespack voiced his concerns, saying, “My problem here is that we don’t know exactly how they’re going to spend that money.”