Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot visits the COVID19 Alternate Care Facility at McCormick Place in Chicago April 1, 2020. Five hundred patient beds were completed within five days. The Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, in support of FEMA, the White House, Department of Defense and the state, constructed approximately 4000 COVID-19 patient rooms at four ACFs within the state of Illinois. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot proposes new plan and programs to help low-income residents, claims to be ‘biggest’ in the U.S.

Will the Chicago mayor receive redemption or even re-election with this new, ‘first of its kind’ plan?

On Monday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot revealed her proposed $16.7 million spending budget proposal to help the most financially vulnerable residents impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If the plan is approved by the city council, 5,000 eligible “very low-income” households can expect $500 per month in cash assistance over a 12 month period. The program will cost about $31.5 million, “the biggest in the U.S” according to the windy city mayor. 

“This cash benefit plan for our residents, if approved, will be the largest in the history of the United States,” Lightfoot explained during her budget speech. 

The “first of its kind” pilot has various focal points. For instance, $240 million will be invested into affordable housing. In part, more than 4000 homes are expected to be created and renovated. Furthermore, the mayor plans to target community safety and violence prevention through efforts prioritizing mental health With this proposal, the mayor’s office pledged $52 million to further equitable, accessible mental healthcare. Included, the City’s initiative also addresses law enforcement reform and even environmental initiatives.

Yet, not everyone is satisfied with the attempted strides. 

| Read: Closure of Chicago public schools makes attendance difficult for displaced students

Some claim Lightfoot’s plan is unoriginal and comes too late in the game because Chicogans have been struggling for months. Possible political opponent in the next mayoral election, Alderman Gilbert tweeted, “It’s unfortunate that [direct cash assistance to residents] was introduced back in April and now just being accepted by [Lightfoot] when we could have been months into this pilot. People have been hurting for months.”

Despite suburbs like Winnetka being under 3 percent in poverty, Chicago’s overall poverty rate is currently 18.4 percent according to the U.S. Census. A Better Chicago initiative reports that one in ten residents live in extreme poverty, or 50 percent below the federal poverty line. As well, one in four children live in poverty with 76 percent of Chicago Public School students receiving free or subsidized meals and approximately 16,000 students being homeless. 

Although Chicago is 50 percent white, only 33 percent of citizens identify as white alone. Leaving minorities to account for over 65 percent of the city. Namely, African Americans and Latinos, each at almost 30 percent respectively.  

The Chicago Reporter says Black Chicagoans have been the hardest hit by COVID-era job loss and are more likely to live in “deep poverty” as compared to their local counterparts. Unfortunately, economic circumstances have not changed much since the 1980’s in the windy city. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray welcome Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her wife, Amy Eshleman to Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Yet, others hold that Lightfoot, a Black, openly Lesbian political official,had an uphill battle to fight as the large global city is also one of the most violent. Added, it is also one of the most racially and economically disparate in the U.S. in recent times. . 

Originally from Massillon, Ohio, Lightfoot was the first Black woman to become the Illinois city’s 56th Mayor. A Democrat, she first assumed office in May 2019. Since, she has fought an onslaught of criticisms, even allegations of cheating on her spouse, Amy Eshleman. 

The initial half of Lightfoot’s first term may not have been ideal. Coupled with a pandemic, the mayor has blamed an overwhelming majority of her policy critiques on racism or sexism.

| Read: Housing is a human right for the City of Newark’s LGBT community

“We ended 2019 with under 500 homicides for the first time in years, and then COVID struck,” Lightfoot contended of her criticisms. “[E]very single city across the country has faced a skyrocketing increase in violent crime. Part of this is obviously due to COVID . . . Now, no one [is]satisfied with that, and we’re working hard.”

In June, Lightfoot’s approval rating was about 48 percent. Indeed, the summer saw rising violent crime rates and by August that number slipped to 42.5 percent, with a 46 percent disapproval rating

That said, Lightfoot’s recent announcement seems to align with mayors across the country in their popular quests to shorten the wealth gap in their cities. Currently, Compton’s Aja Brown or Newark’s Ras Baraka are testing guaranteed, universal basic income in hopes to uplift their underclasses. 

Since all eyes are on political officials and their handling of pandemic-era policy, outcomes could linger in the minds of voters well into next year. Seemingly, this new plan could show skeptical Chicago residents that the new mayor can be trusted given the chance to show and prove.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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