Community activists and Ald. Daniel La Spata blasted Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday for spending more than $281 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to cover police personnel costs instead of using it to help people who were losing their homes and businesses.
“We have every right to be angry,” said La Spata (1st). “Every neighbor you have who was denied housing assistance ... we could have offered them that assistance. ... Every vacant storefront you see is a small business we could have supported with these dollars,” he said during a virtual news conference.
La Spata expressed frustration that city council members learned about the spending last week as Lightfoot sought to transfer more than $60 million of unused federal COVID-19 relief funds to the city’s 2021 budget.
“The spending is part of this big black box that we’re calling ongoing COVID expenses,” La Spata said.
“This is a failure in terms of values, in terms of oversight, in terms of democratic process, but we are committed not to let that happen again.”
Lightfoot’s office didn’t immediately return requests seeking comment, but the city’s Budget Department touched on the matter in a series of tweets Thursday.
“This pandemic has been a crisis like none we’ve ever experienced. Throughout it, the Budget Office has worked with all City departments to ensure they have the necessary resources to meet the needs of our communities,” the Budget Department tweeted.
“Of the $1.2B in CARES Act funds, the federal govt allows $470M to be used for personnel costs, including public health and public safety depts. Had the City not used this reimbursement, we would have been forced to pass the burden onto our taxpayers.”
“Throughout this pandemic our first responders, including our police, firefighters, and EMTs stepped up and kept our communities safe — from performing wellness checks to securing testing sites and quarantine facilities,” the Tweets said.
Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, an advocacy group for working families, said the problem with police receiving the money was a moral one.
“This is not an argument about technicalities and what the law stipulates the money can and can’t be used for. This is about what responsibility does this mayor, does this city have to the people who call Chicago home,” she said.
Black Lives Matter Chicago Executive Director Amika Tendaji said putting the money toward policing was a slap in the face.
“This is a city that also is under a consent decree, that is already being watched by the federal government more highly because its officers could not follow the law and were already brutalizing its citizens,” Tendaji said.
“So that money, the CARES Act money that should have gone to our cousins, our family members who did not have enough PPE while we were all out doing mutual aid drives, should have gone to people getting food, which we were all giving out doing mutual aid drives, not more criminals. Not the police, who have already proven that they ... cannot follow the law and they cannot stop beating Chicagoans.”