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Cook County Board passes resolution on use of CARES Act funding, moving more of $51 million to disinvested suburbs under ‘equitable’ funding formula

Friday, July 17, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

All but one Cook County Board commissioner voted during a special board meeting Thursday in favor of a funding formula aimed at shifting more federal COVID-19 stimulus money to disinvested municipalities throughout the suburbs.

Commissioners approved a resolution that will guide how some of the $429 million allocated to Cook County under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act will be sent to suburban communities as they fight to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

The resolution will use an “equitable funding formula” with a heavy emphasis on economically disinvested areas, distributing $51 million of CARES Act money among Cook County municipalities to reimburse direct costs incurred while responding to the outbreak.

“COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities,” County Board president Toni Preckwinkle said of the new funding formula. “This approach is designed to ensure that these dollars are going to communities most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Allocations to each municipality were determined through an equitable lens.”

Sixteen out of 17 commissioners gave it the green light, with Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, voting present. Morrison labeled the formula as “arbitrary” and expressed concern that it will “overly benefit” segments of the county.

“Do we have a legal opinion from either our attorney or the state’s attorney’s office that our application of the tax dollars that we’re getting in from the federal government and applying them in a non-uniformed and arbitrary manner, if that’s acceptable?” Morrison asked.

Preckwinkle shot back, “Alright, so Commissioner Morrison, I would not characterize this as arbitrary,” before calling on the county’s legal counsel to speak.

Laura Lechowicz Felicione said the office did not officially consult with the state’s attorney’s office, but she pointed out the county is not legally required to share any of the $429 million from the federal government with municipalities. Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki added that the cities, towns and villages will be strictly held to an agreement that includes audits and clawbacks should any municipalities misuse the reimbursements.

“We are confident, based upon the reporting requirements and the reimbursement guidelines, that the stance that we are taking is appropriate,” Lechowicz Felicione said.

Commissioners sent a second resolution to the board’s Finance Committee that would shift nearly $82 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Bureau of Economic Development to support local businesses, assist renters, fund hotels sheltering people experiencing homelessness and more. It’s part of Preckwinkle’s “From Rapid Response to Equitable Recovery” plan announced in May.

Next week, the board will begin preliminary budget hearings as the county faces a nearly $281 million budget gap for this fiscal year. That number could grow to a projected $410 million during the 2021 fiscal year.

“I do hope this is the beginning of, as we all know, discussions on a very, very difficult budget,” Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, said. “We have problems … and things have changed. Things have changed tremendously.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Cook County Board approved two resolutions on Thursday. Commissioners approved one resolution regarding the allocation of $51 million from federal stimulus money. The second resolution, pertaining to $82 million, was sent to the board’s Finance Committee for further consideration.

 


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