Ald. Sigcho-Lopez, advocates say city’s COVID-19 relief money has largely gone to contractors: ‘They’re leaving our communities to bleed’

“We talk about equity, then deliver equity,” the 25th Ward alderman said Sunday. “Deliver equity for our families, for staffing, for communities.”

SHARE Ald. Sigcho-Lopez, advocates say city’s COVID-19 relief money has largely gone to contractors: ‘They’re leaving our communities to bleed’
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Ald. Bryon Sigcho-Lopez speaks at a news conference outside St. Agnes of Bohemia Gym at 2643 S. Central Park in Little Village, Sunday, April 24, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez and a group of public health advocates slammed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s response to the COVID-19 crisis during a news conference Sunday in Little Village, saying federal relief money has disproportionately gone to contractors and consultants instead of schools and the city’s most vulnerable communities.

Among those speaking out Sunday was Dr. Howard Ehrman, a former assistant commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health who has been a vocal critic of the city’s pandemic response as an organizer of the People’s Response Network, a grassroots organization dedicated to building up the agency he previously worked for.

“Why has the city of Chicago completely failed to correctly handle this pandemic?” Ehrman said at the news conference as the group offered COVID vaccinations at St. Agnes of Bohemia in Little Village.

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Dr. Howard Ehrman, former assistant health commissioner, speaks at a news conference outside St. Agnes of Bohemia at 2643 S. Central Park in Little Village, Sunday, April 24, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

While the city has received billions in federal coronavirus aid, Ehrman said most of that cash has gone to corporations and nonprofits, “not to actually put direct services into our communities and schools.”

He said the city health department hired just seven new nurses after receiving $626 million from the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention, and he noted that many Chicago Public Schools face budget cuts even though the school system still has roughly $1.8 billion in federal aid.

“We are launching a citywide campaign to force the city to spend the money directly in the schools,” he said. “And to spend the public health money directly in our communities, to hire people from these communities at union-wage jobs in the department of health, in CPS [and] not through contractors.”

Sigcho-Lopez (25th) previously partnered with Ehrman’s team last March on the “Take the Vaccine to the People Ordinance,” which would create a community-based testing, contact-tracing and vaccination program. It has since languished in the City Council’s Rules Committee.

Sigcho-Lopez also questioned how the relief money is being spent.

“We talk about equity, then deliver equity,” he said of CPS’ expected enrollment-based cuts. “Deliver equity for our families, for staffing, for communities. They’re leaving our communities to bleed.”

Sigcho-Lopez pointed to the $2 billion in federal relief money that’s been budgeted for emergency purposes. This money should be going toward addressing the “mental health crisis” among young people, said Sigcho-Lopez, who said that spending on treatment and other services in schools could help stem violence.

“Our families cannot get basic services, and we have the funding,” he said, noting that 2,000 young people are currently waiting for an appointment at the beleaguered Loretto Hospital in Austin. “That’s tragic. That is tragic. More kids are getting killed every day.”

“We are going to continue to see the trends of the last two years if Mayor Lightfoot doesn’t listen and put the money where we need it.”

Lightfoot’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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