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City approves paying out $3.45M in reparations

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, the City of Evanston agreed to approve to disperse $3.45 million in additional reparations funds for the remaining 138 “ancestor” applicants lined up to receive benefits.

Robin Rue Simmons (Photo by Genie Lemieux)

On Jan. 13, the 154 “ancestor” applicants who applied were randomly ranked, with the first 16 in the process of receiving the $25,000 benefit already.

This resolution, which passed unanimously at last month’s reparations committee meeting as well, is only a procedural gesture that allows $3.5 million of the $10 million already promised to go out to recipients in increments of $25,000, as it is collected in the fund. There is not yet $3.5 million collected from the taxes on the local marijuana dispensary.

The City has 10 years to make due on the process, but local leaders have said they feel the pressure to deliver quickly.

As city leaders discussed funding Monday, former Council Member Robin Rue Simmons, who spearheaded the local reparations effort and was recently voted chair of the city’s reparations committee, discussed the complicated issues with funding the program.

Rue Simmons told the RoundTable that in the legislative process, the committee had to adjust funding streams for reparations because when the $10 million from cannabis revenue for reparations first passed, the city anticipated having three dispensaries in the city of Evanston.

“But due to the State of Illinois, licensing, and other factors outside of our control, we still continue to operate with only one dispensary,” Rue Simmons said. “And with that, we have less funding at this point in our initiative than we had anticipated. So this will allow us to accelerate our disbursement to the ancestors who we are prioritizing.”

The former council member said the Reparations Committee considers the task to disperse funds urgently since they made the reparations commitment in 2019, and several elders in the Black community have died since then.

Rue Simmons said that at the next reparations committee meeting, city staff will provide a full report on what’s happening at the state level for cannabis licenses, where Evanston is in awarding licenses to new dispensaries and more because “that will impact the revenue and therefore the Disbursements” of remaining funds.

While they wait on new cannabis dispensaries, the longtime 5th Ward resident says Evanston needs to consider revenue outside of cannabis taxes to fund the initiative further. The city legal advisor has submitted a supportive memo for pursuing a graduated real estate tax as a funding mechanism for reparations.

Robin Rue Simmons identified a graduated real estate tax as a potential revenue stream a few years back, but since cannabis was legalized around the time of the early local reparations discussions, it was pursued instead of the GRET. Council members Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward) both have ideas as well, she said.

“We will continue to deliver reparations, understanding that there is an incredible amount of work that remains from our city and an incredible amount of work that remains from institutional partners in the city of Evanston.”

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