Immigration crisis puts more pressure on Chicago’s budget

Chicago would receive less aid for immigrants than city leaders expected in the pending state budget deal, a continuation of Springfield’s recent practice of awarding Chicago well below its requests for funds to accommodate a growing population of applicants. of asylum.

The $50.6 billion state budget approved by the Illinois Senate Thursday night includes $42.5 million to provide services to immigrants arriving from the country’s southern border. That provision came about that same day after a request from Mayor Brandon Johnson; however, his administration had pushed for more, and the total $42.5 million would be available to counties and towns across the state, rather than just Chicago.

The spending package now heads to a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives this weekend.

Following news that lawmakers had reached a budget deal, Johnson said Wednesday, “I hope the news is as good as we want it to be” regarding funding for migrant services. But while his team had been calling for more relief, state lawmakers also have a veto session in the fall where they can allocate additional funds.

Finding the money to sustain the city’s increasingly strained shelter operations for the 10,000 immigrants who have poured into Chicago since last August has turned out to be one of the first tests of the new administration. Former Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared the humanitarian crisis a state of emergency during her final days in office, while city officials warned there were only enough funds to keep asylum seekers housed and fed until the end of June.

Brianyerlis Carreno, 10, holds her 8-month-old brother, Mateo Vargas, both from Venezuela, outside the Chicago 12th Precinct police station on the day Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared a state of emergency in response to the thousands of migrants who have arrived in the city.  May 9, 2023 in Chicago.

According to a May letter from Chicago’s congressional delegation, the city has spent more than $75 million in the past nine months on the new arrivals, most of whom come from Central and South America. About $15 million of that aid has been the city’s own funds. A proposal to allocate another $51 million to migrant services from previous budget surpluses was temporarily blocked on Wednesday by a group of Conservative councillors, but is expected to win a vote in the coming days.

The tug-of-war between Chicago and Springfield over how to pay for the influx of immigrants continues as both Republican governors and nonprofits in southern border states, particularly Texas, can’t seem to stop flying and busing applicants. of asylum to the north in the short term. At a budget hearing earlier this month, city officials said 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 awarded only $10 million. On the federal side, the city’s $66.7 million request to FEMA was met with a $4.3 million award.

Governor JB Pritzker’s administration has said the state has spent a total of $260 million on housing and care for asylum seekers. But harsh living conditions continue in Chicago, where more than 700 migrants currently sleep on the floors of Chicago police station lobbies, thousands more in makeshift shelters, and divisions continue to emerge between communities and local officials over how to handle your needs without neglecting longtime Chicagoans.

In fact, some of the councilmembers who have opposed more immigrant funding, whether from city or state bids, represent black neighborhoods that they say have long been disinvested and also deserve a piece of the resources. It’s early proof of Johnson’s frequent refrain on the campaign trail that there’s “enough to go around” in Chicago.

In Springfield’s last budget season, Democrats also had to contend with skyrocketing costs in a program that provides Medicaid-style health benefits for immigrants who are in the country illegally or who don’t qualify for the traditional insurance program. for the poor. That would not apply to the vast majority of newcomers because they require employment authorization through a federal application process that has been bogged down for months.

That means that, on the part of the county government, costs are also expected to rise.

As of the end of April, Cook County Health has provided care to approximately 6,000 asylum seekers since September 2022, including health screenings and primary care at a Northwest Side clinic, and when necessary, inpatient or specialty 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 covered the cost of nursing staff, while CCH “covered all other operating costs, including physicians, facilities, supplies and pharmaceuticals,” CCH spokeswoman Alexandra Normington told the Tribune in April. . The cost was about $1.7 million per month at its peak, but dropped to about $1.1 million as fewer asylum seekers arrived.

But the state stopped picking up the cost of nursing, about $1.5 million, in early February. As demand began to rise again, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle went to Springfield earlier this month to ask leaders to turn the spigot back on.

“When we were in Springfield two weeks ago, we talked with our legislative leaders, including the speaker and the president, about the resources we needed to provide medical care to the people who arrive daily from Texas. That was $8 million for the end of the state’s fiscal year, which is June 30, then $20 million for the following year,” Preckwinkle told reporters Thursday. He said he reiterated that question during a conversation with the governor late last week.

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen” with the funding, he said Thursday, hours before the general assembly approved the deal. She said she had “no idea” how much the county could receive out of the $42 million figure.