Chicago aldermen voted to spend $51 million on migrant care through June as Mayor Brandon Johnson works to get a handle on the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The City Council’s spending authorization comes at a critical time for Chicago government, which is struggling to care for thousands of migrants amid pushback from residents amid financial woes exacerbated by lowball funding appropriations from state government and little tangible support from President Joe Biden’s administration.

The passage of the appropriation followed an unsuccessful attempt last week, when three conservative aldermen blocked the vote during Johnson’s first City Council meeting. But after being reintroduced during Wednesday’s meeting, the appropriation passed 34-13.

Council members Gregory Mitchell, Michelle Harris, Anthony Beale, Marty Quinn, Raymond Lopez, David Moore, Derrick Curtis, Monique Scott, Emma Mitts, Nicholas Sposato, Anthony Napolitano, Brendan Reilly and Jim Gardiner voted no.

On the council floor, a spirited debate among aldermen unfolded after a contentious public comment period saw Chicago police escort disruptive speakers who opposed funding migrant services.

Underscoring the tension between the migrants’ emergency needs and the struggling neighborhoods hurt by decades of disinvestment, Moore, 17th, opened the discussion by urging a “no” vote. His majority-Black ward has suffered with dilapidated public facilities such as field houses and seniors becoming homeless because of long public housing waitlists, he said, arguing that his community needs an oxygen “mask” first.

“The soul of Chicago is somewhat on trial today regarding this ordinance. … People keep saying there’s enough to go around,” Moore said, quoting a common theme from Johnson’s inaugural address and mayoral campaign. “I heard that over and over. So let’s pass an ordinance where we see enough.”

But 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez, who represents Little Village, pushed back. As he asserted Chicago is a “strong city,” one man in the public gallery shot back, “No, you’re weak!”

“We have enough. We will live in abundance as a city,” Rodriguez said. “We will not live in scarcity. I will choose not to live in scarcity. We do have enough. Mayor, you said it on the campaign trail.”

Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th, delivered the discussion’s most passionate remarks on the floor as she wiped her eyes with a tissue and spoke of the historic abuse Black people have faced.

“When the hell are y’all going to help us? When?” Taylor said. “To some of y’all, we still ain’t s—.”

Ald. Jeanette Taylor, 20th, wipes a tear as City Council members applaud after her impassioned speech in favor of funding for migrant aid, May 31, 2023, at Chicago City Hall.

But she also implored those Black residents who are against helping migrants to stop thinking in us-versus-them terms, asking, “Who the hell is ‘them?’ It’s us. That’s the s— that got us here from the get-go.”

After stating that “hurt people” shouldn’t hurt other people, Taylor received a standing ovation from the council body, though one woman from the gallery yelled that she was a “sellout” and “traitor.”

Multiple progressive aldermen also committed to reparations for Black Chicagoans, which was a demand from some of the public speakers who opposed helping the migrants in their South Side neighborhoods. But the public speakers grew increasingly restless, interrupting council members and shouting anti-migrant statements.

Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, likened the push-and-pull between those Black speakers opposed to migrant funding and those who supported more aid to a “crabs in a barrel” situation. He stressed that without more revenue for both homelessness and migrants, the discord in Chicago will continue, citing both a proposed increase in the real estate transfer tax and in Chicago’s portion of Local Government Distribution Fund, which channels state income taxes to municipalities.

“If we don’t do that, we are going to be here month after month, fighting over our values even though we share the same values,” Vasquez said.

Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, argues in opposition to funding for migrant aid in the City Council chambers, May 31, 2023.

Several aldermen said the fingers should be pointed at the federal and state government, expressing frustration that Chicago was left to fend for itself. Others castigated Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who first started busing migrants to Chicago in August while arguing border towns had run out of room and resources to shelter migrants and that “sanctuary cities” should accept them.

Napolitano, 41st, disagreed with Abbott’s detractors and said their sentiments were hypocritical to the spirit of Chicago as a welcoming city, established under an ordinance from 1985 that was strengthened in the past decade.

“The problem here is, in the frustration, we all want to yell and point fingers at Texas,” Napolitano said. “That’s not right. We declared ourselves a sanctuary city.”

The latest infusion of funds was seen as a stopgap measure to keep shelters open amid a migrant crisis has seen about 10,000 new arrivals in Chicago in the past nine months, mostly from Central and South America. The money will be drawn from previous budget surpluses and is only expected to maintain the city’s housing, food and other operations for about another month.

To make the situation more pressing, the city has been struggling to find money from the state and federal governments. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has said the state has spent a total of $260 million on shelter and care for asylum-seekers, but the harsh living conditions continue in Chicago.

Asked his long-term plans for sustainable funding for both asylum-seekers and the city’s homeless, Johnson reiterated his support for the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, but suggested the city will need to find solutions in the upcoming 2024 budget. The mayor typically introduces the budget in the fall.

Despite the tenor of the debate, Johnson said “We were still able to have a democratic process, where voices were heard. And the challenge that I inherited from the previous administration, we’re not going to duck from it, we’re not going to dodge it, we’re going to take it head-on. … We’re going to collaborate, work together and figure out how we can actually solve the critical problems that people expect us to solve.”

“What you’re seeing is a collaborative effort to decompress police stations. We’re having community meetings to stand up facilities we do have access to. We’re working hard. It’s been two weeks, I’m pretty confident we’ll get to the third week,” he said. He insisted the city is “big enough to take care of the residents who have been here and make room for those who wish to call Chicago home.”

More than 700 migrants are currently sleeping on the floors of Chicago police station lobbies, thousands more in makeshift shelters, and divisions continue to emerge among communities and local officials over how to handle their needs without neglecting longtime Chicagoans.

The new state budget deal awards Chicago less migrant aid than Johnson’s administration had hoped for: $42.5 million, though lawmakers can designate more during the fall veto session. That budget, a total $50.6 billion package, currently awaits Pritzker’s signature.

Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot too saw her requests for more aid fall short. She declared the humanitarian crisis as a state of emergency during her last days in office, while city officials warned of running out of money within weeks.

City officials said this month they first requested $53.5 million from the state and only got $20 million. When they asked a second time, for $61.7 million, the state granted just $10 million. On the federal side, the city’s $66.7 million request to FEMA was met with a $4.3 million award.

Meanwhile on the county government side, costs are also expected to rise.

Through the end of April, Cook County Health provided care to roughly 6,000 asylum-seekers since September 2022, including health screenings and primary care at a Northwest Side clinic, and when needed, specialty or inpatient services at Stroger Hospital. Overall, hospital officials said asylum-seekers had made 28,600 visits to CCH in that span.

Between September and January, the state had covered the cost of nursing staff, while CCH “covered all other operational costs, including physicians, facility, supplies and pharmaceuticals,” CCH spokeswoman Alexandra Normington told the Tribune in April. The cost was roughly $1.7 million per month at its peak, but dipped to roughly $1.1 million as fewer asylum-seekers arrived.

But the state stopped picking up the nursing cost — about $1.5 million — at the start of February. As demand began to rise again, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle went to Springfield early in May to ask leaders to turn the spigot back on, but she said last week she has “no idea what’s going to happen” with her latest request to the governor for $8 million through the end of the fiscal year in June, and then $20 million for the next year.

Also Wednesday, aldermen voted unanimously in favor of allowing outdoor dining provisions first launched during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue. Under the changes, applicants will be able to apply for two different permits: one to offer dining in the curb lane in front of their business — where cars normally park on the street — and another where three or more restaurants or taverns can band together and apply to close down a block from regular vehicular traffic and put tables and chairs in the street.

Applications would be filed with the city’s Department of Transportation, and if granted, restaurants could offer seating outdoors between May and the end of October. After application, other city departments and neighboring businesses could be solicited for their input before a permit is granted, and the local alderman will also be asked for a recommendation on the application. Fees for the permit “shall be determined” by the transportation commissioner.

While Johnson’s council reorganization plan sailed through the aldermen l earlier this month, the budgets for the new committee structure and a beefed up vice mayor position for Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, faced a temporary roadblock Wednesday. Moore and Beale — both critics of the reorganization plan — used a parliamentary maneuver to delay a vote until the next City Council meeting. But after meeting privately with Johnson behind council chambers, Beale announced at the end of the meeting they’d withdraw their opposition. The reorganization plan uses roughly $790,000 in unspent funds from a special council menu program Lightfoot included as an olive branch in her 2023 budget.

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