Aldermen, Residents Criticize Lightfoot Budget's Mental Health Funding

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised that she’d re-open some of the mental health clinics closed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but next year’s city budget does not include funds to fulfill that promise, and it’s sparking a heated debate on the issue.

The new budget, which is currently undergoing a series of public hearings and close examination by the Chicago City Council, does increase funding by nearly $10 million for existing mental health clinics in the city, but Lightfoot has acknowledged that the amount is not enough to re-open the five city-run clinics that had been shuttered under the previous administration.

Now, some residents who relied on the city-run clinics are speaking out about their experiences, including Estela Diaz.

“I waited five years – five long years, (for care), she said. “In that five years, I attempted suicide.”

Residents aren’t the only ones asking questions. Numerous aldermen are questioning the decision, grilling acting mental health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“I’m really confident this has been a fair and equitable process along the way,” she said.

Dr. Arwady has still not been approved for her position by the City Council, its way of protesting Lightfoot for not fulfilling her campaign promise to re-open the closed clinics.

AFSCME represents most of Chicago’s mental health care workers. The union recommends expanding evening and weekend hours along with adding 10 clinical therapists.

Without changes made to the funding for the mental health clinics, some aldermen, including 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, have said they won’t vote in favor of the budget.

“I’m not going to take no as an answer,” he said.

The mayor’s budget calls for less than $10 million in funding for the clinics, while as a candidate Lightfoot had pledged $25 million to restore the closed clinics and to bolster the existing ones.

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