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Aldermen, activists urge city to spend federal relief money on social services that would reduce violence

“We have to keep hammering away until the Lightfoot administration agrees to get these dollars out the door,” Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) said Thursday.

Reina Torres, 16, of Garfield Park, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, discusses Chicago’s gun violence during a news conference outside City Hall in the Loop, Thursday morning, July 8, 2021.
Reina Torres, 16, of Garfield Park, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, talks about gun violence during a news conference Thursday outside City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Several aldermen and activists called Thursday for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to immediately spend federal relief money headed to Chicago on social services that would reduce violence, help people pay rent and assist those in need of mental health treatment.

“We have to keep hammering away until the Lightfoot administration agrees to get these dollars out the door. We can’t sit on it. We’ve seen what happens if we do, we get more weekends like the one we just had,” said Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), referring to the violent Fourth of July weekend.

La Spata was one of 12 aldermen who co-sponsored the Chicago Rescue Plan, an ordinance that was submitted last month but has yet to move out of committee. It seeks to ensure the city quickly spends the $1.8 billion in federal relief money on social services — and not use the money to pay down city debt.

La Spata said the city has half the money in its coffers.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) said the money should immediately go toward providing “massive amounts of resources in mental health care and satisfying the needs of our community. ... We are here, we are desperate at this point.”

Catlyn Savado, 14, of Woodlawn, a community activist with Assata’s Daughters and Students Strike Back, discusses Chicago’s gun violence during a news conference outside City Hall in the Loop, Thursday morning, July 8, 2021.
Catlyn Savado, 14, of Woodlawn, a community activist with Assata’s Daughters and Students Strike Back, talks about gun violence Thursday outside City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Lightfoot had planned to use more than half the money to pay down borrowing that followed pandemic-induced shortfalls. But her plan was put in jeopardy after the Treasury Department issued guidelines in May stating the money couldn’t be spent on tax cuts, pension funds, debt services, legal settlements or judgments or be deposited in rainy day funds.

Lightfoot’s office was expected to submit an appeal of sorts seeking clarification from the Treasury Department on her spending plan. The deadline to submit such a note is July 16.

A Lightfoot’s spokeswoman on Thursday wouldn’t offer specifics on spending plans, but noted that feedback has been received from both aldermen and residents.

Details on how Lightfoot wants to spend the federal relief money aren’t expected until mid-September, when Lightfoot plans to present her 2022 budget.

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) said Chicago is at a “crossroads” and urged city leaders to quickly spend the money on an array of social services that research shows result in violence reduction.

“We’re very lucky that the federal government has been able to provide us with hundreds of millions of dollars that we can use. Now is the time to use them to reduce violence, we owe it to the people of the city of Chicago,” he said.