Texas flow of migrants to Chicago weighs on city budget

Chicago will tap $53 million of a 2021 budget surplus to fund the ongoing needs of asylum seekers that have flowed into the city from Texas.

The city has received some state and federal funding but it falls far short of what’s needed to address the health, food, and housing needs of migrants that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent to Chicago on buses after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lightfoot and Abbott traded barbs as the city has been overwhelmed with migrants being forced to stay at the airports and police stations as they await shelter space and the city works to expand available space with another surge of asylum seekers expected. Abbott added Chicago to the list of destinations for migrants last August.

“The total anticipated costs for January through June 2023, which includes planning for the current surge,” which is expected to reach a peak of about 4,700 new arrivals per day “is anticipated to be $124.8 million,” city Budget Director Susie Park said Friday during a special joint hearing of the Committee on Budget and Government Operations and the Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

The city will tap $30 million in state approved funding, $22 million in city-approved funds, and a minimum of $20 million in new Federal Emergency Management Agency funds expected later this month, leaving a shortfall of $53 million to meet anticipated funding needs through June.

“Closing this shortfall will be part of a midyear budget amendment coming before the Budget Committee in May” that will tap a portion of the city’s 2021 budget surplus. The city had set aside some funding from the 2021 surplus to address “unanticipated emergencies to help address this shortfall.”

The city intends to keep pushing the state and federal government for more aid especially given a surge is expected after the scheduled court-ordered lifting of Title 42 — the public health rule issued during the pandemic that allowed the U.S. to limit migrants’ entry into the county.

After the flow of migrants surged last summer, the city requested $16.5 million from FEMA in October. It received $3 million. The city filed a revised request for $17.5 million and received another $2.5 in December for a total of $5.5 million for 2022.

The city along with others lobbied for additional federal spending and $800 million was approved, including $350 million for an existing emergency food and shelter program.

The city requested $67 million under the $350 million program and expects some allocation later this month.

In January 2023, the city requested $53.5 million from the state and it received $20 million, with those funds covering migrant shelter costs for January and February, Park told the committee. The city requested another $61.7 million from the state and received $10 million.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker defended the state’s role Monday saying it provided $150 million in relief dollars and services provided since August. The state approved an additional $90 million in January. “Our resources are stretched,” Pritzker said, urging the federal government for more support.

Lightfoot sent Abbott a letter Sunday pleading to halt the bussing of migrants, saying the city was aware that the process was set to resume Monday.

“Your lack of consideration or coordination in an attempt to cause chaos and score political points has resulted in a critical tipping point in our ability to receive individuals and families in a safe, orderly, and dignified way. We simply have no more shelters, spaces, or resources to accommodate an increase of individuals at this level, with little coordination or care, that does not pose a risk to them or others,” Lightfoot wrote.

The city has been caring for 8,000, Lightfoot wrote.

Abbott responded on Monday advising Lightfoot to seek help from President Biden to secure the border.

“You are right that ‘this situation is completely untenable,’ but this is not a Texas problem — this is a problem for the entire United States of America,” reads the letter. Texas began bussing migrants to so-called “sanctuary” and “welcoming” cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia last August.

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