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Trump threat could cost Chicago $13.4M in DOJ grants, city says

Chicago's general obligation debt backed by property taxes now stands at nearly $9.9 billion — roughly $3,680 for each of the city’s 2.7 million residents. | Sun-Times file photo

Chicago stands to lose $13.4 million in federal anti-crime grants if U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions follows through on his threat to cut or even “claw back” Justice Department money flowing to sanctuary cities, City Hall said Monday.

The annual funding at stake for Chicago comes in the form of three federal grants: $3.05 million in federal asset forfeiture funds; $3.2 million in Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants; and $3.13 million under the “Cops Hiring Program.”

The money is used for a host of law enforcement activities ranging from hiring additional police officers to buying police vehicles and other equipment, said Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Budget and Management.

Chicago stands to lose an additional $3.5 million to $4 million in “existing DOJ grants that have yet to be fully expended,” Poppe said.

“I don’t know if they can go back multiple years,” Poppe wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a report last year, the Justice Department said Chicago could lose nearly $29 million in annual federal crime-fighting grants because of its status as a sanctuary city where immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.

More recently, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability pegged Chicago’s share of DOJ grant funding in 2017 at $24.5 million, including $7.3 million for police hiring.

Poppe said the city’s estimate is lower because the other estimates relied on published figures from the city’s budget, which are over six months old and include budgeted carryover money.

“Since that time, we have spent down those grants, and the figures we provided are based on actual funds remaining,” she wrote.

“If the Trump administration were to say tomorrow the city is no longer eligible for DOJ funding, we lose roughly $10 million of anticipated grant funding. We then also estimate we have to give back an additional approximately $4 million of existing DOJ grant funds that are current programmed and being spent down,” she said. “This is the most accurate picture of impact now.”

The city’s lower estimate helps to explain why Standard & Poor’s has concluded Trump’s decision to authorize a federal funding cutoff to sanctuary cities was “unlikely” to affect Chicago’s shaky bond rating — “at least in the near term.”

The credit rating agency has noted that federal budget laws “limit the executive branch’s authority to withhold or defer funds that Congress has appropriated.”

On March 27, Sessions threatened to cut or “claw back” Justice Department funds flowing to sanctuary cities, counties and states. The attorney general cited criminal acts by several illegal immigrants in San Francisco and Denver as he discussed how sanctuary localities violate federal law.

“The president has rightly said this disregard for law must end,” Sessions said then.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded by questioning the legality of Sessions’ threat and calling it “a bit of a joke” at a time when DOJ funding is being cut.

Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel, who served as deputy White House counsel during the Obama administration, branded Trump’s executive order “an unconstitutional attempt to force municipal police departments to aid in the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

“Despite professing concern for local law enforcement efforts, especially in Chicago, the order threatens to deny federal funding to local governments that refuse to be conscripted as auxiliary ICE agents,” Siskel said.

“Chicago is proud to stand with 34 cities and counties across the country in asking a federal court to prevent the federal government from illegally withholding federal funds,” he said.

The week ended with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claiming — with no data — illegal immigrants are responsible for the bloodbath on Chicago streets.

“It would be interesting to want to send more money to a city that is allowing people to come into the country who are breaking the law, who, in many cases, are committing crimes — member of gangs,” he said.

“And so you can’t be a sanctuary city and at the same time seem to pretend or express concern about law enforcement or ask for more money when probably a number of the funds that you’re using in the first place are going to law enforcement to handle the situation that you’ve created for yourself,” he added.

On Monday, mayoral press secretary Matt McGrath said the estimate of crime-fighting revenues Chicago stands to lose is irrelevant.

“There is no threat or dollar amount that would make us turn our back on those values that have served us so well. This is about who we are as a city, not a line item on a budget spreadsheet,” McGrath wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.