Even though youth jobs programs are supposedly one of its top priorities, Evanston’s City Council this week could barely muster the minimum votes needed to spend federal money on a program that will be two-thirds paid for with private funds.
The dispute arose over differing views among the alderpersons about whether the city has done enough planning about how to allocate $43 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to be able to move ahead with actually spending some of the money.
Caught in the crossfire was the proposal for ASPIRE, the Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program.
The program was developed by Evanston-based NorthShore University HealthSystem to help meet a growing need for healthcare workers that the hospital says is driven by the retirement of baby boomers, pandemic resignations and labor force training deficiencies.
A city staff memo says the hospital system itself currently has 500 job openings.
The hospital is offering $200,000 in funding for the program and asked the city for a matching $200,000 in ARPA funds. In addition, the Finnegan Family Foundation has committed $200,000 toward the program.
The program would offer career fairs and job shadowing to high school students and career acceleration through internships, certification programs and scholarships for residents ages 18 to 30.
The city’s Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to approve the funding request last month.
Council has been wrestling since July with the issue of how to allocate the ARPA funds. And while the members appeared to come to some broad agreement in December, that hasn’t stopped the disputes.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) claimed the Council needs to “stop shooting from the hip” on its spending decisions. And Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) said the Council is “undermining its credibility” by making piecemeal decisions on funding.
But some council members who have called for devoting more time to the overall allocation process in the past seemed to have resigned themselves that that may never happen.
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the city has essentially committed itself to having an ad hoc process, given that it’s already made substantial fund allocations.
And Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said that while he wanted “a more strategic approach” to ARPA, “if we don’t have one by now, maybe it’s as good as its going to get.”
With that, the careers program won approval on a 5-4 vote, with Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) joining Kelly and Suffredin in voting no.
Still unclear is what will happen at future meetings when another $4.7 million in recommendations for ARPA spending from the Economic Development Committee for three other projects come up for a full City Council vote.