Gas card giveaway plan narrowly approved by committee

The 15-to-12 Budget Committee vote for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Chicago Moves” program sets the stage for a full City Council showdown next week. The odds favor Lightfoot, but the outcome is by no means assured.

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Businessman and Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps gas during one of his giveaways in March 2022. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to give away gasoline cards to Chicagoans narrowly advanced out of committee on Wednesday.

Businessman and Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps gas during one of his giveaways last month. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to give away gasoline cards to Chicagoans narrowly advanced out of committee on Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

If gas giveaways were a game of political poker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot just barely trumped Willie Wilson — with house money.

The City Council’s Budget Committee set the stage for it on Wednesday, narrowly approving the $12.5 million commuter assistance plan Lightfoot calls “Chicago Moves.” It would dole out 50,000 gas cards worth $150 each and 100,000 Ventra cards worth $50.

The 15-to-12 vote came only after the mayor made several tweaks to mollify widespread opposition.

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The income ceiling for eligibility was lowered from $140,000 to $93,200 for a family of four.

Also, three-fourths of the $7.5 million in gas cards will be reserved for South and West Side neighborhoods defined by the city as “high-mobility hardship community areas.” The rest will be distributed through citywide lotteries “in equal portions to each ward,” officials said.

With those changes, a narrow majority of alderpersons swallowed their concerns that the program bankrolled by “sweeping aging revenue accounts” was a “political ploy” that will allow Lightfoot to one-up Wilson.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) was not one of them.

Noting that Lightfoot’s name is “very prominently displayed” on a mock-up of the gas card, Ramirez-Rosa said: “I’ve heard from some constituents who have said they feel like this is the mayor trying to prove that she has the biggest gas hose.”

Budget Chair Pat Dowell (3rd) called that complaint “petty,” noting “the mayor’s name is on everything,” including aldermanic paychecks.

A mock-up of one of the tens of thousands of gas cards that would be distributed through a lottery system if Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Chicago Moves” plan is approved by the City Council.

A mock-up of one of the tens of thousands of gas cards that would be distributed through a lottery system if Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Chicago Moves” plan is approved by the City Council.

City of Chicago

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), a former mayoral ally who has turned into an outspoken critic, joined the parade of “no” votes.

Sadlowski-Garza argued $93,000 for a family of four was a “pretty good chunk of change” for those families to get a card allowing them to “fill up twice and it’s over.” She argued the money would be better spent on mental health, homelessness and eliminating food deserts.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) added violence prevention to that list, and pleaded with Dowell to no avail to hold the ordinance in committee.

“I can’t support this when there are so many more needs in this city,” Hairston said.

Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) led the charge for the mayor’s giveaway after Lightfoot heeded his call to earmark most of the money for “transportation challenged” communities like his own.

“We need to help those that need help the most,” he said.

“If we help people get to work, that’s one less person trying to rob somebody.”


Ald. Derrick Curtis (18th) was not appeased by Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett’s claim that one-third of all Chicago households would be eligible.

“If everyone can’t get a piece of the pie, no one should,” Curtis said.

Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st) likened the dilemma facing the City Council to divvying up five cupcakes among 30 students.

“If we cut it all up and give everybody some, people will say, ‘You gave me crumbs,’” Brookins said, applauding “how this program has evolved.”

Wilson already has conducted two gas giveaways, with another planned for this weekend, all bankrolled by $2.2 million from his personal fortune.

He has attacked Lightfoot’s giveaways — including gas cards, mass transit cards, bicycles, security cameras, motion detectors and guaranteed basic income checks.

“I thought it was against the law to give away the taxpayers’ dollars for political purposes,” Wilson told the Sun-Times last week. “I gave my own money out of my own pocket.”

Earlier this week, Lightfoot had an answer for those who believe she’s trying to one-up Wilson and curry favor with voters as she gears up for, what’s expected to be an uphill battle for a second term.

“I would just point them to the $6 per gallon for regular that people are experiencing all over the city. The fact of the matter is gas prices have skyrocketed. And for working families in particular — working individuals — I’ve heard it everywhere I go that people are really trying to ration their budgets because they can’t afford to fill up their gas tanks,” the mayor said.

“There is an urgent need and we’re being responsive to the need that we see across the city.”

Businessman and Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps donated gas for a driver at a BP gas station Thursday, March 24, 2022 in Cicero, Ill.

Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps gas during his March 24 giveaway at a BP gas station in Cicero, Ill.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Pressed on whether the city can afford a $12.5 million giveaway, Lightfoot said, “We wouldn’t do anything that we didn’t think we could pay for. This is coming out of our corporate dollars and we believe that this is the right thing to do given that gas prices have skyrocketed. They haven’t come down yet. And as we know, every summer, the prices go up even more. So that’s why we’re rolling this out in increments over the course of the summer to continue to give people relief.”

The gas cards and Ventra cards will go to winners of rolling lotteries that start in May and continue in four more monthly waves through the summer.

Gas card lottery entrants must be motorists living in Chicago, 18 years or older, with a valid city sticker and a maximum household income of 100% of the area median income. That puts the revised income limit at $93,200 for a family of four. Ventra lottery entrants do not have to be motorists or have a city sticker.

Applications must be submitted by the first day of each month for lotteries conducted the second week of each month.

The gas cards will be valid for one year and may be spent only on gas, and only at 417 “active filling stations” within the city limits. Nine stations have been excluded from the program because they are “not in good standing with the city,” officials said.

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