Bloomington City Council members signaled by a 5-4 vote Monday night they are not in favor of approving direct payments to people disadvantaged by the pandemic shutdown.
Council member Jeff Crabill, author of the proposal, said his goal was to have a direct aid program ready before the township and nonprofits are overwhelmed.
“In March, more than 5,000 people filed for unemployment benefits compared to 400 in February," said Crabill. "At some point, moratoriums will end and rent and mortgage payments will become due. We also know from experience that during times of economic recession, charitable giving drops. The city can coordinate with nonprofits, but the city needs to take the lead.”
Crabill, speaking at a Committee of the Whole meeting, said federal Community Development Block Grant money will flow to Bloomington and the city has accumulated a $22 million reserve.
“Our residents need some of that money back,” he said, suggesting the city empower the township to administer the aid as it does with existing support for the indigent. He said an entirely new group of people needs help, people who have never relied on outside aid before. He suggested criteria of job history and applicants' expenses.
A couple council members did not speak to the principle of direct aid, but opposed going forward without a detailed proposal.
“We do need to be very precise. I don’t think that starting off with a blanket open discussion without a basic framework is going to be helpful to anybody. It might just be a waste of time,” said council member Jamie Mathy, adding he might entertain such a discussion in the future.
Council member Donna Boelen said the proposal was "poorly vetted."
“I’m not sure that the role of a municipality is to provide direct aid to citizens,” said Boelen. “There is a lot of umbrella that is taking care of needs in this community.”
Council member Mboka Mwilambwe called the proposal vague and that he is not sure who in the community is getting their needs met.
Member Joni Painter said the community already has a lot available and the city might not be able to afford a direct aid program if the recessionary impact of the pandemic continues long enough to erode reserves.
“I think having further conversation about this will just stir up further widespread panic about this,” said Painter.’
Scott Black uttered a modified no, saying he'd be willing to discuss the issue at the April 27 council meeting. He said any suggestion of a vote next week would be disingenuous without hearing from not-for-profit partners first.
Council member Kim Bray was a hard no.
“This simply evidences a complete lack of focus on the roles and responsibilities that are charged to us as municipal officials,” said Bray. “We have significant challenges facing us by delivering the public health demands, by taking care of the water, by taking care of emergency services.”
“All needs certainly are not being met and we need to kick in to fill the gap to assure the well-being of our community members,” said council member Jenn Carrillo. “There is nothing wrong with having an open, transparent conversation in the public without all the details needed to be baked ahead of time and behind the scenes. I don’t think that’s a democratic process and I’d like to have this conversation in public.”
Council member Julie Emig said it's important to have the conversation even without a vote next week.
“But it’s to inform something more precise going forward, “ said Emig. "I maintain we do need to balance our responsibilities with data-driven need, but having this conversation will get us closer to that point.”
Mayor Tari Renner noted the issue will likely not go away and there will be opportunities to talk about it in the future.
“We do know that the American social welfare system and private contributions is like a fishnet. People fall through the cracks all the time,” said Renner, adding there are cracks that are so wide it’s sad.
The issue will not appear on the council agenda next week. What will happen is a briefing on township aid programs and what nonprofits such as the United Way of McLean County are doing to respond to pandemic-caused need in the community.
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