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Black Caucus urges Lightfoot to cancel guaranteed minimum income plan, put $31.5 million toward violence prevention

Ald. Jason Ervin, chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said his group hasn’t “drawn a line in the sand” — yet.

Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
Chicago City Hall.
Sun-Times file

After demanding that reparations come first, the City Council’s Black Caucus is urging Mayor Lori Lightfoot to cancel her guaranteed minimum income pilot and reallocate the $31.5 million toward violence prevention.

“We believe that violence is a public health issue and that public safety is one of the top priorities — not only of the administration but of everybody in the city,” Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) told the Sun-Times.

“As a piece of the violence prevention strategy, we believe that we need to expand services, stipends and the like to help essentially guide some of our young people into better directions.”

Last year, Lightfoot famously warned members of the Black Caucus who dared to vote against her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s--- for the next three years” when it comes to capital projects.

This year’s version of the mayor’s pre-budget-vote meeting with the Black Caucus included no such threats. And it was far less contentious than the mayor’s meeting last week with a Hispanic Caucus complaining about a shortage of Hispanics in leadership positions and demanding that Lightfoot roll back part of her property tax increase.

Still, the Black Caucus is lobbying for a series of changes to the mayor’s $16.7 billion budget — a budget propped up by a massive influx of federal relief — before the final Council vote next week.

Those requests include:

  • Cancelling the $31.5 million program that would send monthly checks of $500, no strings attached, to 5,000 of Chicago’s neediest families for the next twelve months. Instead, the money would be reallocated to “redress violence prevention through intensive case management, training and employment.”
  • Earmarking $75 million in federal stimulus funds for hotel and motel workers with “100 percent” of the money going directly to those employees.
  • Setting aside $70 million in federal relief for single-room-occupancy housing. “Not only is it affordability. It’s also about habitability. Many of these properties aren’t in the best shape,” Ervin said. “By setting aside funding for that, it preserves affordability and also creates a better product that can deter some of the negative activity that many SRO’s have been known for.”
  • Increasing the $100,000 awarded to each of the 50 Council members for “micro-grants” to groups of the local alderperson’s choosing to $250,000 — from $5 million to $12.5 million citywide — to bankroll “social service infrastructure improvement.”

Last year, Lightfoot was forced to do a lot of wheeling and dealing and changing to line up the 26 votes needed to approve her budget.

She canceled 350 layoffs in favor of borrowing against future marijuana revenues and ordered five unpaid furlough days, but only for those non-union employees with six-figure salaries.

She sweetened the pot of violence prevention by $10 million and set aide $2 million to test a pair of alternate response pilot programs for 911 calls related to mental health emergencies.

She also increased the treasured menu program from $1.32 million for each of the 50 wards to $1.8 million.

Even so, the mayor’s plan to raise property taxes by $94 million, followed by annual increases tied to the consumer price index, passed with only two votes to spare.

This year’s budget vote is far less controversial.

The city’s property tax levy will rise by $76.5 million, with $22.9 million triggered by the automatic escalator and $25 million used to bankroll the 2022 installment of Lightfoot’s $3.7 billion capital plan. The rest will be captured from “new property.”

The question now is whether Lightfoot believes she must make changes to secure the 26 votes she needs or whether she can stand pat and still get her budget passed.

“As always, we work in good faith with members of the City Council to see where we can reach some common ground, if possible,” the mayor said this week.

“But the most important thing is we’ve got to move forward. We’ve got a lot of people across the city that have significant needs that we’ve got to meet now and in the future.”

Tuesday, Ervin was asked whether Black members of the Council plan to withhold their votes from the mayor’s budget if she won’t meet their demands.

“I wouldn’t say it in that manner. The conversation is about, ‘Hey. This is what you’ve presented. These are some things we think need to be adjusted and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle,’” Ervin said.

“We haven’t drawn a line in the sand. … We haven’t reached that point yet. We put something on the table. When we hear back from the mayor and have some further conversation, we’ll make a decision.”

He added: “It was in no way, shape or form like some people may have felt last year. It was a very positive conversation. I think we’ll find a way to work through this and figure it out.”