Pritzker, Preckwinkle pledge combined $250M for Chicago migrants; mayor dodges questions

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Friday, February 16, 2024
Chicago Mayor Johnson dodges questions on migrant funding
After the state and Cook County announced more funding for the migrant crisis, Chicago Mayor Johnson dodged questions about the city's contribution Thursday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More money was promised Thursday to help asylum seekers sent to Chicago from Texas.

Gov. JB Pritzker and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are pledging a combined $250 million in funding.

They say the money will ensure that shelter, wraparound services and healthcare will remain available for migrants through the end of the year.

"Following a long-term planning exercise, State, County and City teams concluded that an additional estimated $321 million is needed to maintain shelter and services this calendar year, on top of previously committed funding," a news release from both Pritzker and Preckwinkle said. "The Governor and President are pledging a combined investment of over $250 million to help close this gap."

SEE ALSO: As migrant crisis continues, number of migrants in Chicago shelters at lowest point in months

In November, the state committed an additional $160 million to the asylum seeker response. That commitment was in addition to the $478 million the state has spent since the start of the response. As part of the joint funding plan, the state is pledging an additional $182 million, which will be part of the governor's upcoming Fiscal Year 2025 budget proposal to the General Assembly.

Cook County has already committed more than $100 million in its current FY24 budget for new arrival related costs, primarily for healthcare, and Preckwinkle will work with Cook County commissioners to commit up to $70 million more for this joint funding plan, the release said.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson repeatedly avoided answering questions about what Chicago's commitment would be.

"So I'm grateful for the work from the state, as well as from the county," Johnson said.

But when the mayor was asked about the city committing to fund the remaining $71 million needed for migrant care, he repeatedly dodged the question.

"There are a lot of things to consider in this entire operation. It's not just financial resources," he said. "I'm committed to this mission, and I'm grateful that we have partners at the state level and county level, who are also committed to this mission."

Pritzker said in a statement, "With thousands of asylum seekers continuing to come to Chicago in desperate need of support and with Congress continuing to refuse to act-it is clear the state, county, and city will have to do more to keep people safe. I'm thankful to President Preckwinkle for working with us to help close this budget gap and maintain critical services in the year ahead."

Preckwinkle also put out a statement, saying, "As critical funding for this ongoing humanitarian crisis stalls in Congress, Cook County stands committed to the well-being of the region. We cannot wait for additional resources and Cook County is proud to stand alongside Governor Pritzker in this joint funding plan, ensuring that shelter capacity, healthcare and wraparound services remain accessible to those in need."

Johnson suggested he was counting on the city's $71 million portion of this year's migrant funding to come from the feds.

"But the goal is to ultimately challenge the federal government because local municipalities are not designed to be able to hold this type of operation," he said.

One alderman suggested at least part of the money could come from the American Rescue plan funds the city already has, but the mayor shot down that idea, saying that money will go to help Chicago's disinvested neighborhoods.

A compromise deal in the U.S. Senate that was meant to help address the increase in border crossings disintegrated last week after Republicans backed out of the agreement.

A source briefed on the matter told Capitol News Illinois Johnson had committed to providing the remaining funds at a Feb. 5 meeting between the mayor, governor and Preckwinkle.

The influx of migrants coming from Texas has slowed in recent weeks, with Chicago's shelter system being at its lowest capacity since last fall. As of Wednesday, there were about 12,900 people staying in city shelters - down from a peak of around 15,000 a few weeks ago.

There were also no migrants at the city's airports or at the "landing zone" facility, the location that the city instructs bus companies to drop people off.

More than 35,000 asylum seekers have been dropped off in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs in the last year and a half.

Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.