Sanctuary Cities and Federal Funding

In September 2016 at a Phoenix AZ campaign stop, president-elect Donald Trump, said he would cut all federal funds to sanctuary cities if cities did not comply with immigration enforcement.

Cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and many more have come out against the president-elect in support of local residents to say their city will remain a sanctuary city regardless of threats from the federal government.

City officials are not required to enforce federal immigration law, so the only recourse the federal government has is to threaten defund to sanctuary cities.


Cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and many more have come out against the president-elect in support of local residents to say their city will remain a sanctuary city regardless of threats from the federal government.


What would happen if sanctuary cities did lose all federal grants? Around the country, cities receive varying amounts of money from the federal government and would be impacted differently if federal funding was completely eliminated. Cities like New York, Seattle, and and Los Angeles rely on roughly between 1%-12% of their budget from the federal government, and the amount varies city to city. Certain cities like Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Seattle receive very little in federal grants currently, so cuts would not be devastating. For some sanctuary cities, like New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle, if no federal grants comes in, the city has a variety of revenue sources to fall back on. Some cities like Chicago rely heavily on federal grants and are limited in raising alternative revenue. Certain cities are well positioned to refuse federal (Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Seattle) funding while other are not (Chicago, Seattle, New York) because of how much federal funding they currently receive.

This may signal a sea change in how cities view federal authority. With residents coming out in support of funding transportation projects themselves at the city level, cities have repositioned themselves to thrive in the midst of federal turmoil.

(photo by Julia Fredenburg)

Can the president-elect actually take away all federal grants? Supreme Court rulings restrict the federal government in using funding to coerce municipalities. Also, city police forces are often prohibited from detaining someone past their jail term for immigration detention. Finally, federal funding comes to cities via grants. These grants have terms which must be clear to cities and are connected to what they should be spent on. Grant terms limits the federal government’s ability to put immigration or law enforcement criteria on education grants or social service grants for instance. The president-elect is limited in federal grants he can take away from cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.


Can the president-elect actually take away all federal grants?


Cities have an incredible power within their boundaries. The way that we think about cities has changed over time. Voters have shown they are willing to pay for projects that are important to them, and can have control over their futures. Cities are self sufficient in many ways, and have the flexibility to be innovative and risky. New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and San Francisco have the financial and population power to stand up for rights of immigrants and refuse grants with unreasonable strings attached.

What are Sanctuary cities?


Sanctuary cities (and counties) limit their cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement. There is no one definition for a sanctuary city, but oftentimes sanctuary cities will prohibit the use of municipal resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Sanctuary cities often prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Local law enforcement will not cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) request to detain individuals.

Because there is no one definition for sanctuary cities, it is often difficult to say how many there. According to the New York Times, there are roughly 39 Sanctuary cities, though this number is up for debate.


(photo by Julia Fredenburg)

What Sanctuary Cities Have to Say

With the recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, many residents are concerned about family, friends, and neighbors who are immigrants. Because of the president-elect’s caustic remarks about immigrants during the presidential campaign, many residents are concerned for their safety. As a result, many sanctuary cities have come out to publicly state they will remain so, regardless of threats to cut off funding from the federal government.

Notably, sanctuary cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia (amongst many others) have publicly stated they will remain sanctuary cities and are not in the business of using local police forces to enforce federal immigration laws. All of those cities prohibit police officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Most (LA, NYC, San Francisco, and Philadelphia) do not hand over people to federal immigration officials for deportation if they’ve been arrested for low level crimes. Additionally, most do not detain people past a previous jail term for the purpose of being deported.


Cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia have publicly stated they will remain sanctuary cities and are not in the business of using local police forces to enforce federal immigration laws.


Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said on Nov 14, 2016 that the police department was not going to be a part of deportations by the federal government. The police department would also continue to prohibit officers from stopping people to ask about immigration status. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said in early Nov 2016 “we’re a very welcoming city, where our law enforcement officers and LAPD don’t go around asking people for their papers, nor should they.

Mayor Ed Murray stated that Seattle would remain a sanctuary city even if it meant losing federal funding, though expressed concern about funding for homeless services and transit projects that he feared might be lost.


“LAPD don’t go around asking people for their papers, nor should they.” - LA Mayor Eric Garcetti


San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney echoed similar sentiments, assuring residents they would remain sanctuary cities. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Nov 10, 2016 that New York would also continue to be a sanctuary city. "We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community. We are not going to tear families apart."

Federal Funding

With a threat from the president-elect to cut funding to sanctuary cities, New York will be affected differently than Philadelphia differently than Seattle differently than Los Angeles. How much will cities really lose if they are cut off from Federal grants?

In fiscal year 2016 (typically from July 2015-June 2016), the federal government provided different cities with wildly different grant allocations for city expense budgets. New York City received the most with roughly $7 billion for social services, education, police, transportation, and more. Minneapolis and Philadelphia received $29 million in federal grants. Chicago received the most as a percentage (11.26%) of the city’s entire budget, receiving over $1 billion in federal grants in FY 2016. Philadelphia received the least in total ($29 million) and percentage (0.74% of total city budget) as is it contributes to the city budget. Some cities have a lot more to lose than others.


Some cities have a lot more to lose than others.


Federal Grants in FY2016 to Cities

Federal Grants as a % City Budget

For context, different cities spend wildly different sums per capita, so this plays into the total sum they receive from the federal government. I.e. if they total budget is large, the amount from the federal government will be large as well. New York receives $843 per resident in federal grants, San Francisco receives $535 per resident, and Chicago receives $368 per resident. Minneapolis receives receives $74 per resident in federal grants while Philadelphia, a city with roughly 3 times the population of Minneapolis receives only $19 per resident in federal grants. Some cities spend a lot on each resident, while others spend little, and this is oftentimes proportionally represented in federal funding.


Some cities spend a lot on each resident, while others spend little, and this is oftentimes proportionally represented in federal funding.


Per Capita Spending by City for Entire Budget

Per Capita Federal Grants by City

Cities’ ability to respond to a lack of federal funding relies heavily of the current level they receive from the federal government and also their current revenue structure. Those heavily reliant on federal funds and also fees for services are not on as sure a footing as those with little federal funding currently and flexible taxing revenue structure with support from state grants.

Where do Cities Get Money from?

Chicago

(photo by Jamie Burkart)

Chicago gets the most as a percentage because the city has few other funding sources. Chicago is not well positioned to refuse federal funding.

Chicago relies very heavily on grants from the federal government to provide services, resulting in a reliance on fees from services to make up a majority of revenue. Chicago received 11% of their FY16 budget revenue from federal grants, and 1.8% in State Grants ($168,900,000 FY16). This imbalance may be due in large part because Chicago also relies heavily on fees for services and does not have a city income tax. Relying on service fees means that if Chicago were to lose a major funding source, the city would have to increase the costs of services like sewer and water. Increasing costs for basic services puts an undue burden on those with the lowest income because they will pay a much larger portion of their income than those with much high income for a very similar service.


Chicago gets the most as a percentage because the city has few other funding sources. Chicago is not well positioned to refuse federal funding.


Federal Grants as a % of City Budget

Chicago receives very little grants from the State of Illinois. Compared to Philadelphia which receives 5.4% of total city revenue from the State of Pennsylvania, or New York City which receives 16% of its revenue from the State of New York. This makes it difficult for the City of Chicago to turn down federal funding because the city does not have any way to make up the difference.

Chicago Sources of Revenue FY16

New York City


(photo by Julia Fredenburg)

NYC gets the most as a total, receiving $7 billion in federal grants in FY16, though is less reliant on outside sources and fees for revenue than Chicago.

New York receives a lot of money because it serves the largest number of people, and provides different services. New York City has a population of over 8 million people, more than twice the population of the next largest city, Los Angeles. New York City also passes the largest budget, coming in at $84 billion for FY16. That is more than 9x the budget of Chicago ($9 billion FY16), which is the next largest. New York City provides a lot of services that a state would, like housing and other social services.


NYC gets the most as a total, receiving $7 billion in federal grants in FY16, though is less reliant on outside sources and fees for revenue than Chicago.


Even with the largest amount of federal grants of all cities, that funding source only makes up 8.4% of New York City’s expense budget in FY 2016.

New York City receives funding primarily from property taxes, income taxes, and state grants, allowing it to be more nimble if the city did in fact lose federal funding. The state provided roughly 16% ($13 billion) of the total revenue budget in FY 16 compared to Chicago’s 1.8% in state grants. New York City also utilizes a progressive income tax, allowing for those with higher incomes to pay more to city coffers. New York City is well situated if it lost federal grants because of its flexible revenue structure from taxes and state grants.

New York Sources of Revenue FY16

Philadelphia

Philadelphia gets the least in federal grants as a percentage and in total sum amongst all the cities studied, and the city spends the least per capita on its residents. Philadelphia is well positioned to turn down federal funding because the city receives so little currently.

Philadelphia receives very little in federal grants. The city’s overall budget is also very small. Philadelphia was awarded $18.67 per capita in federal grants in FY16 and spent roughly $2,500 per capita in total in FY16. Compared to San Francisco’s budget of $10,673 per capita and $535 per capita in federal grants, Philadelphia pales in comparison of overall spending and federal grant receipt.

Philadelphia is flexible in terms of revenue sources and could withstand defunding from the federal government. Primarily, city revenues come from income tax, property tax, business taxes, and the Pennsylvania Intergov Cooperation Authority (PICA). Roughly 5% comes from state grants.


Philadelphia is well positioned to turn down federal funding because the city receives so little currently.


Philadelphia receives very little in federal grants and has a flexible revenue structure. If the city did lose all federal grants, Philadelphia could fall back on income taxes, property taxes, and state grants.

Philadelphia Sources of Revenue FY16

Los Angeles


(photo by Don Lee)

Los Angeles receives some grants from the federal government but not the most of all cities studied. The city does not have particularly flexible revenue sources, relying on fixed property taxes and fees for services.

Los Angeles receives roughly 5% of the city’s expense budget from the federal government, a middle level city in terms of amount received. LA falls in the middle of cities studied for per capita spending from federal grants with $106 in federal grants per resident. The city spends the least in total per resident with $2,209 per resident for city services.

LA relies heavily on property taxes and fees as revenue sources and very little on the State of California (1.7% of FY16 expense budget).

Los Angeles is not perfectly situated to refuse federal funding, but with low reliance on funding currently and political backing from the state of California, it could work.

Los Angeles Sources of Revenue FY16


Los Angeles is not perfectly situated to refuse federal funding, but with low reliance on funding currently and political backing from the state of California, it could work.


What Could Cities Lose?

What do cities stand to lose if they lost federal grants? Social services and housing could take a big hit. San Francisco and Chicago specifically have focussed on the ability to lose justice related funds because of non-compliance. This is the most likely result for all cities studied.

Many cities have looked to residents to cover the cost of services and capital projects. Residents in Seattle and Los Angeles recently passed initiatives at the ballot box that ask residents to pay more for transportation projects (and receive less from the federal government). Cities may find their own ways to pay for the services needed. This could be a path to independent cities and a complete change in how residents see the structure and responsibility of local government.


Social services and housing could take a big hit.



(photo by Don Lee)

Los Angeles received roughly $400 million in FY16 in federal grants for services like port security, library reading programs, and homeless shelters. This number only accounts for services and not physical capital projects funded by the federal government. The Los Angeles Housing Services Authority (LAHSA) also received roughly $23 million in federal Housing and Urban Development funds this fiscal year. If all funds were pulled out by the federal government, it stands to reason that the Los Angeles housing authority may be the biggest loser.


Cities may find their own ways to pay for the services needed. This could be a path to independent cities and a complete change in how residents see the structure and responsibility of local government.


Los Angeles city officials are also looking to the federal government to partially cover new transportation and infrastructure projects like restoring an 11 mile section of the Los Angeles River and a subway through the Sepulveda Pass. Interestingly, the passage of a new tax to fund transportation in the county expresses residents’ interest willingness to pay for transportation projects, with no federal strings attached.


(photo by Jamie Burkart)

In Seattle, cuts to federal funding would mean the loss of $37 million towards the city Human Services Department’s $144 million budget. What also stands to be lost is $10 million in federal grant money as part of the city’s Transportation Master Plan. Additionally, the city was counting on grants for a streetcar, bridge project, and bus rapid transit.

Los Angeles isn’t the only city to look to residents instead of the federal government to fund federal transportation projects. Washington state recently passed a transit package to add $53.85 billion to add 62 miles of new light rail in the Puget Sound area.”

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stated that he was concerned about getting federal funding for homeless services and transit projects. The mayor stated that homeless services funding may have to go to voters as well.

“At some point, the federal government is going to have to step up. Obviously, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be soon. We as a city are going to have to ask ourselves, ‘What more do we do?’ ” Murray said.

Los Angeles and Seattle have rethought transportation funding with a new focus on services and infrastructure supported by residents directly. Cities will be forced to be financially independent from the federal government, and will in turn will have the ability to refuse terms the city does not agree with. Essentially this will create more freedom for the city to enact policies that are more flexible and risky than the federal government could implement because of the political climate and sheer size of bureaucracy.


**“At some point, the federal government is going to have to step up. Obviously, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be soon. We as a city are going to have to ask ourselves, ‘What more do we do?’”

  • Seattle Mayor Ed Murray**


<font size=2" color="grey">(photo by Jamie Burkart)

In the most likely scenario, there will be cuts in funding for law enforcement and justice grants.

San Francisco and Chicago have voiced concerns about losing annual justice grants. Grants with stipulations tied to immigration procedures are those most likely to be cut. Even before the president-elect entered the dialogue on sanctuary cities, the Department of Justice had blocked select cities and states from applying for certain grants because they wouldn’t meet the department's criteria, including the state of California.


Cities will be forced to be financially independent from the federal government, and will in turn will have the ability to refuse terms the city does not agree with.



(photo by Julia Fredenburg)

Because Department of Justice grants are tied to outcomes around enforcing immigration policies, cities are most likely to lose Department of Justice grants of all current federal grants.

Can the Federal Gov Cut All Funds to Cities?

The federal government cannot use coercive conditions like withholding funding in order to facilitate its goals. The Supreme Court has ruled on several cases involving the federal government's control over other levels of government. In 2012, with the Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s Medicaid expansion, the ruling stated that the federal government couldn’t use overly coercive tactics for funding conditions. In the Supreme Court’s South Dakota vs. Dole ruling, the court came to a similar decision about Congress and its inability to coerce local governments to act based on the threat of withholding federal funds.

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(photo by Julia Fredenburg)


In 2012, with the Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s Medicaid expansion, the ruling the federal government couldn’t use overly coercive tactics for funding conditions.


Also, local authorities cannot hold people beyond their release date for an unrelated immigration crime as it violates the 4th amendment right against unreasonable seizures. In 2014, a federal court ruling found that an Oregon county illegally held an inmate beyond their release date to be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This lead several cities to take up sanctuary city status in order to comply with federal laws regarding unreasonable seizures. As a result, it is largely illegal for local officials to hold inmates after their release date in order to transfer them to federal officials.

Additionally, federal grants to state and local governments have conditions in order to receive the grant, and those conditions must relate to the grant’s purpose. Criteria must relate to the purpose of the grant. The grant can not be taken away midterm unless those criteria are not met. The federal government cannot withhold federal grants to specific cities unless it can prove the grants criteria related to deportation policies, and very few are given with conditions relating to federal deportation. Federal grants have certain criteria that is related to the grant which is agreed upon by the recipient.

Should Cities Hold their Ground?

Cities are uniquely positioned at this time. Federal grants have decreased substantially over time, and local residents, seeing the value of important capital projects, have voted to fund those projects in part themselves. Cities with limited funds from the federal government and flexible sources of revenue are best positioned to resist federal government immigration threats. Through Supreme Court rulings, a solid footing for local pushback has been put in place. While unlikely to lose all federal grants, it is possible that cities may lose U.S Department of Justice grants for not following department criteria for grants based on current immigration practices. Many cities already do not receive those grants because of current policies, so there is little lost for certain cities. Cities are generally well positioned to maintain their sanctuary status because of small amount they currently receive in federal grants and also because the federal government is limited in immigration restrictrictions it can apply to federal grants.

Get the Data and Sources

All Cities Federal Grants FY2016 CSV
Los Angeles Revenue CSV
Philadelphia Revenue CSV
New York City Revenue CSV
Chicago Revenue Sources CSV

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