Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration spent $281.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds on the paychecks of Chicago Police Department officers, a move that is drawing harsh criticism from Chicago aldermen and activists.
The CARES Act money was transferred to the police department and used largely to pay for police officers’ overtime hours rather than coronavirus priorities cited by critics, such as housing and business relief and vaccine rollout efforts.
“We asked for assurances they wouldn’t spend it all on police,” Alderman Daniel La Spata, 1st Ward, said on Wednesday. “That’s the last thing people wanted, to infuse hundreds of millions more dollars into the police department right now.”
“And just as egregious, we learned that $68 million of that funding was never spent at all,” La Spata continued. “So we have every right to be angry, because every neighbor you have who was denied housing assistance, we were prepared. We could have offered them that assistance. Every vacant storefront you see is a small business we could have supported with these dollars.”
Lightfoot, a Democrat, is currently seeking the Chicago City Council’s approval to roll over into the 2021 budget approximately $65 million leftover from the city’s $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus funds.
The Office of Management and Budget said Wednesday that the funding routed to the police department was federal reimbursement for specific coronavirus-related police costs dating from March through May, including police wellness checks on residents, airport security when travelers were screened for the coronavirus, and security at the McCormick Place coronavirus field hospital as well as virus testing sites.
The mayor has not yet commented on the backlash over the funds being transferred to the police department.