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Cook County suburbs score $51M in CARES Act funds to cover pandemic expenses

Thursday, July 09, 2020
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin

More than 100 Cook County suburbs will share $51 million in federal money to make their budget outlooks a little less dire this year, county officials announced Wednesday.

County financial leaders pulling that amount from the $429 million they were allocated from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in April to help the municipalities cover expenses related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The federal aid package only helped local units of government presiding over 500,000 people or more, but it allows recipients to disburse some of the money to smaller governments under their jurisdiction.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the aid in west-suburban Berwyn, a city of nearly 55,000 people, which is getting a $788,000 reimbursement — one of the largest awarded through the initiative. County leaders doled out the money based on an “equitable formula” that factored in each municipality’s “social and economic determinants and public health needs,” Preckwinkle said.

With Covid-19 “having a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities,” Preckwinkle said the approach “is designed to ensure these dollars are going to communities that are most impacted by the pandemic.”

Berwyn is “one of the most heavily impacted” areas, she said. The cityhas logged 42 deaths related to Covid-19, half of whom were Black or Latino, according to Cook County’s interactive dashboard showing local impacts of the pandemic. Another county map shows Berwyn with an above-average “social vulnerability index,” a stat used to illustrate each census tract’s susceptibility to the virus.

Related: County launches Covid-19 impact dashboard

Funding for initiatives, development related to pandemic

County officials did not release any records showing how much money is going to each city, town and village. County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki said his staff drew their formula is based on “immediate needs, municipal population, median income and public health statistics,” adding that more information will be released about the funding model “in the next couple weeks.”

Preckwinkle and Rizki also said the funding could be used to fund “operational initiatives” related to safely reopening government facilities, as well as “economic development” that could address the impacts of the pandemic.

Speaking at the announcement event Wednesday, Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero said city officials have kept tabs on the amount of money they spent on protective equipment, extra cleaning supplies and other emergency expenses incurred to fight the virus.

A map illustrating roughly how much funding was allocated to each municipality. County officials did not release complete records showing how much money was sent to each jurisdiction. [Cook County]

“Once we get the eligibility requirements [for the funding], we’ll see how those fit in, and we’ll apply them appropriately,” Lovero said.

The CARES Act reimburses governments for pandemic-related expenses but does nothing to help them make up lost revenue, forcing Cook County and local governments across the country to consider mass layoffs and tax hikes in order to make up huge budget shortfalls.

Preckwinkle said Wednesday she is “hopeful” Congress will take up another relief package this month that reimburses state and local governments for lost revenue.

If no other help comes through, county officials will have to close about a $280 million budget hole this year and another $410 million gap for the fiscal year 2021, according to a preliminary budget forecast released last month.


Cook County passed along about 12 percent of its CARES Act package to suburban municipalities. Another 46 percent of the $429 million pool is being used to fund “operational initiatives” like extra labor, 23 percent is covering “direct costs” and another 19 percent is going to “economic development” programs like business grants and extra social services, according to officials.

The city of Chicago independently received about $1.3 million in CARES Act funding this spring.

Alex Nitkin

Alex Nitkin is The Daily Line’s reporter covering Cook County and Chicago land use policy. He came to TDL from The Real Deal Chicago, where he covered Chicago real estate news. He previously worked at DNAinfo, first as a breaking news reporter, and then as a neighborhood reporter covering the city's Northwest Side. Nitkin graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a bachelor’s degree.

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