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We Can’t Use Cash From Scrapped Summer Fests To Help Chicagoans Pay Rent, City Says — But Aldermen Not Giving Up

Because the major summer events are canceled, the city won't be getting revenue from those events, which means there won't be savings to redistribute, a city spokesperson said.

Blues Fest is one of many major summer events that had to be canceled due to coronavirus.
Blues Fest/Facebook
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office on Thursday said the aldermen-backed plan that calls for putting summer festival and event money toward the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant won’t work.

In an email, city spokeswoman Mary May said the now-canceled summer festivals and events are “funded entirely with revenue generated from events and tourism collected in the current budget year.”

Because the major summer events are canceled, the city won’t be getting revenue from those events, which means there won’t be savings to redistribute, May said.

“”I’ve made no mistake about the fact that we absolutely need to be supporting our immigrant and refugee communities, particularly those who are undocumented” and won’t get federal money, Lightfoot said at a Thursday press conference. “But the specific ask … these festivals get their money because they make money. If we cancel them, there’s no revenue stream to support it. It’s not like there’s a pool of money sitting there, ready to support these programs. … It’s really very simple math.”

It’s unclear how much money was collected this budget year. May didn’t immediately respond to followup questions.

Yet Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), the alderman who introduced the order Wednesday, said he and his colleagues in City Council aren’t giving up. Ramirez-Rosa said they’re still calling for a “detailed review” of the city event budget.

“I look forward to receiving that detailed review when it’s done,” he said in a text message.

Ramirez-Rosa also noted that leaders in Cicero conducted a review of their event budget and found $30,000 in savings that they have now put toward cash assistance relief for vulnerable residents. Block Club was not able to independently verify this informtion.

“I am hopeful that a detailed review of every associated line item connected to DCASE events may result in dollars that can be similarly used for COVID-19 relief at this time,” he said.

“Ultimately, this measure is about moving the conversation forward about how our city can identify local dollars to close the gap created by President Trump’s failure to provide meaningful relief to all Chicagoans. We have a responsibility as a city to take care of all our people – especially those excluded from federal relief like undocumented Chicagoans, homeless Chicagoans, and unbanked Chicagoans – and we must look at every available option to meet that need.”

The city announced earlier this week that Blues Fest, the House Music Conference and Festival, the Gospel Music Festival and the Memorial Day Parade and Wreath Laying Ceremony have all been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The city also ditched plans to host Chicago in Tune, which was to be a new, 18-day celebration of music throughout the city.

All of the events were scheduled for late May and early June.

“These cancellations are disappointing to all of us here in Chicago, particularly for the countless individuals who worked so hard to organize an extraordinary Year of Chicago Music,” Lightfoot said in a press release.

“Nonetheless, these difficult but necessary steps were taken in order to ensure the health and safety of our residents and visitors, which continues to be our utmost priority throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

The day after the announcement, Ramirez-Rosa introduced an order demanding city officials amend the 2020 Annual Appropriation Ordinance and move the summer festival funds to the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant.

The order is backed by at least nine aldermen representing neighborhoods across the city and is meant to give provide relief to Chicagoans struggling to pay for housing during the crisis. Community groups came up with the idea, according to Ramirez-Rosa.

Chicago’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance Grant, which was initially allocated $2 million, drew an overwhelming response. As of April 7, about 83,000 people applied for help through the grant program.

The order would inject more money into the grant program in response to the massive need. City officials have worked to find funds for a second round of housing assistance grants, but nothing has been formally announced yet.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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