Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s big push to hand out up to 150,000 gas cards and CTA transit fare cards cleared a City Council hurdle Wednesday despite ongoing concerns from aldermen whose approval she needs to launch it.
The council Budget Committee approved the $12.5 million outlay by a 15-12 vote. The full City Council is set to consider it next week.
Even some of those who backed the plan Wednesday said they did so reluctantly.
Southwest Side Ald. Mike Rodriguez, 22nd, said he would rather the funds go to a pilot universal income program for poor residents. But he nonetheless voted in favor of the Lightfoot gas-and-transit card program because “at its core, we are redirecting money to working-class people.”
And Northwest Side Ald. Ariel Reboyras, 30th, voted yes, saying he understands Chicagoans are hurting and this is a way to help some of them. But Reboyras said he wished it could be applied more broadly to give aid to more people.
But West Side Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, said his colleagues who vote no were voting against “those who need the most help” making ends meet and getting around the city. “This is a small way to help some of our most challenged residents,” Ervin said.
Several aldermen have greeted with skepticism Lightfoot’s election-year plan to use $12.5 million in city money to give away 50,000 prepaid gas cards worth $150 each and 100,000 passes that will cover $50 worth of CTA bus and train fares.
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Coming after businessman Willie Wilson staged his own gas giveaway events before announcing his mayoral campaign, some dismissed the Lightfoot move as a political ploy. Others criticized the income guidelines the mayor set for eligibility. Wilson is planning another gas giveaway on Saturday.
Facing pushback, Lightfoot did not ask the Budget Committee to approve an earlier version of her proposal. She amended her initial plan to direct the cards to lower-income households and have 75% of them go to people who live in neighborhoods suffering from “high mobility hardship” on the West and South sides, before bringing it to the committee for an up-or-down vote.
Of the roughly 1 million households in Chicago, about 500,000 would be eligible for one of the 150,000 total cards, according to Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett. About one-third of the city’s households are within the “high mobility hardship” areas, Huang Bennett said.
The cards would be distributed via lottery if more eligible households apply than the number of cards that are available.
Lightfoot defended the program this week as a public policy move not tied to her reelection campaign or a reaction to Wilson’s giveaways.
It failed to convince several members of the Budget Committee.
Far South Side Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza, 10th, voted no on Wednesday, saying the money should go to something “more sustainable,” such as mental health services. “I don’t think this is a good move. You’ve got a car, you’re filling it up twice and it’s over,” Sadlowski Garza said.
South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, said, “there are so many more needs we have in this city” that are more pressing, such as food insecurity.
Southwest Side Ald. Derrick Curtis, 18th, lamented that his residents wouldn’t see many of the cards because of the income and geographic hurdles. “If everyone can’t get a slice of the pie, no one should,” he said.
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