Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot spent $281.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money on police payroll

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John Byrne, Chicago Tribune
·2 min read
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration spent $281.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money on Chicago Police Department personnel costs, prompting an angry response Wednesday from activists and some aldermen.

The number came to light as Lightfoot seeks City Council approval to transfer about $65 million in unspent federal COVID-19 money into the 2021 budget, after the Biden administration waived Federal Emergency Management Agency local funding matches and extended the deadline to spend federal dollars until the end of the year.

Ald. Daniel La Spata, 1st, last summer called on the mayor to put federal money toward housing relief or other programs to help struggling residents. He said he and other aldermen heard from residents that they didn’t want federal money targeted toward police payroll.

“We asked for assurances they wouldn’t spend it all on police,” La Spata said Wednesday. “That’s the last thing people wanted, to infuse hundreds of millions more dollars into the Police Department right now.”

Speaking to aldermen in June, city Budget Director Susie Park said no relief money had yet been spent on police funding.

But the Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday said specific coronavirus-related police costs between March and May were later identified for federal reimbursement once CARES Act money started arriving, for things such as police performing wellness checks on residents, airport security when travelers had to be screened for COVID-19, security at the McCormick Place coronavirus field hospital and security at virus testing sites.

La Spata said he found it hard to believe Park didn’t yet know about those costs in June.

Activists have planned a Thursday morning news conference to speak out against the big federal outlay for the Police Department compared to what went to public health and other programs.

The city received about $1.2 billion from the federal government to help plug COVID-19 budget holes and defray additional costs as the city’s economy cratered during the early months of the pandemic.

Money went to the city’s public health response to the disease, to homeless services and to O’Hare and Midway airports. Homeless services programs got funding, as did senior citizen assistance.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne