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Chicago Mayor Announces $5 Million Fund for City Residents Excluded From Federal Covid-19 Relief

The program to serve undocumented individuals, people who were formerly incarcerated, and others is just the latest local initiative launched amid a lacking federal response to the pandemic.

On April 16, 2020, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot arrives at Wrigley Field, which was converted to a temporary satellite food packing and distribution center in cooperation with the Lakeville Food Pantry to support ongoing relief efforts underway in the city as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

On April 16, 2020, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot arrives at Wrigley Field, which was converted to a temporary satellite food packing and distribution center in cooperation with the Lakeville Food Pantry to support ongoing relief efforts underway in the city as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the Resurrection Project, and Open Society Foundations announced on Wednesday a $5 million cash assistance program for the over 300,000 city residents excluded from federal Covid-19 relief, including undocumented individuals, mixed-status families, dependent adults such as college students, and people who were formerly incarcerated.

"This fund serves as a critical resource for the thousands of Chicagoans who so sorely need support and relief from the impact of Covid-19, but are unable to receive it through the federal government's own stimulus channels," Lightfoot said in a statement. "As part of my fight to mitigate the effects of economic hardship and poverty in Chicago, I know that what people struggling right now need is money, and this fund will get them just that to make ends meet."

The new Chicago Resiliency Fund will provide $1,000 per household to eligible Chicagoans who didn't qualify for the $1,200 stimulus checks that were distributed as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Donald Trump signed in March. Critics have charged that the federal checks were inadequate relief even for those who qualified and called out Congress and the president for giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.

Lightfoot on Wednesday applauded the Open Society Foundations—which seeded the fund with a $1 million pledge—and the Resurrection Project, which will work with community groups to distribute the money. During a press conference, the Democratic mayor urged those who can to donate to the fund.

Raul Raymundo, CEO of the Resurrection Project, urged Chicagoans to "be generous because this is just the beginning," according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"We know $1,000 may not go a long way. But, it will certainly help in these troubling times so that families can stay in their home, put food on the table, and pay the utility bills," Raymundo said. "As Covid-19 continues to expose inequities in black and brown communities, we are proud to be joining forces with the mayor and others on the rebuilding process and healing process to make sure that communities of color once again begin to thrive."

Lightfoot's announcement of the fund, as the Sun-Times reported, was welcomed by a top legislator in the state:

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) said Chicago is "lucky to have a little fireball in Mayor Lightfoot" to lead the city through the pandemic. She credited the mayor with starting a "national conversation" about the disproportionate impact that the virus has had on black and brown communities.

"I want to commend the Chicago Resiliency Fund for recognizing these disparities. It is a response to the pain of generations and generations and generations of disinvestment and racism. It is also a glimmer of hope," she said. 

"We can't stop. We need justice. We need direct investments in our community. Healthcare, business, education, police accountability and, yes, direct cash assistance to the poor and vulnerable. I look forward to seeing these funds reach poor families across the city and especially in the Austin community I represent. Thank you for supporting those who have traditionally been left out of every conversation and out of every support system."

In a statement, Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, thanked the anonymous donor who contributed $4 million for the fund and said his organization looks forward to "a day when essential and undocumented workers are included in federal relief packages."

"The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the role that essential workers, especially undocumented immigrants, play in our society," he said. "This is now finally recognized by almost everyone—but not, unfortunately, by the federal government, which has excluded millions from emergency relief—including U.S. citizens."

The Chicago Resiliency Fund is just the latest local initiative launched amid a lacking federal response to the pandemic, which has killed over 112,000 people in the United States and infected nearly two million. The New York Times detailed various local efforts in mid-May reporting about the high demand for California's $500 million relief program for undocumented immigrants:

Immigrants who are in the country illegally are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock caused by the coronavirus outbreak because they tend to earn low salaries in jobs that have disappeared, as cooks, servers, hotel workers, and domestic help.

Two-thirds of them have lived in the United States for more than a decade. Collectively, they have five million American-born children and pay billions of dollars in taxes, yet most states have not moved to provide any assistance through the current economic collapse. A few other states, including Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts, are starting or implementing programs for undocumented immigrants affected by the pandemic. New York City, Austin, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, have either city-funded or privately funded initiatives.

The fund in Chicago comes as people in the Second City and other communities nationwide have spent over two weeks taking to the streets in protests against police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis. The demonstrations have produced demands for local governments to defund their police forces and reinvest that money in other public safety and community initiatives.

The Chicago Teachers Union nodded to those calls in a tweet about the Chicago Resiliency Fund:

The new fund also comes as Republicans in Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), continue to slow-walk further federal relief from the pandemic, even though millions of people across the country have lost their jobs and health insurance, and are struggling to cover housing and food costs.

The Hill reported Wednesday that McConnell "indicated to GOP colleagues during a closed-door policy lunch on Tuesday that he does not anticipate the chamber will take up another coronavirus relief package before leaving for a two-week July 4 recess, according to senators in the meeting."

The outlet noted that Senate Republicans "flatly rejected the $3 trillion price tag of the bill passed last month by House Democrats." Progressive critics, meanwhile, say the Democrats' Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, doesn't go far enough.

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