Cook County to start dividing up ‘much-needed’ $51 million in federal CARES Act funding to suburbs hardest hit by coronavirus pandemic

In this file photo, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle answers questions from media members at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

In this file photo, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle answers questions from media members at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Cook County suburbs will receive about $51 million in federal aid under a formula that officials say will prioritize areas with the direst financial and public health needs, board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Wednesday.

More than 100 cities, towns and villages will receive a slice of the money, which makes up 12% of the total $429 million coronavirus relief fund given to Cook County under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Preckwinkle said at a news conference in west suburban Berwyn.

When announcing what she called “much-needed relief” to local governments, Preckwinkle stressed that racial equity surrounding the coronavirus response was paramount — a common theme during her messaging since the pandemic started. The county worked with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to devise an “equitable funding formula” that considers a municipality’s immediate needs, median income and public health statistics, she said.

“As we know, COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities,” Preckwinkle said. “This approach is designed to ensure these dollars are going to communities most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”

But the federal aid comes with the condition that local governments may only use it for direct COVID-19-related expenses, such as reimbursements for personal protective equipment or other costs incurred responding to the pandemic. Lost revenue from sales, amusement and other non-property taxes throughout the coronavirus outbreak cannot be offset by CARES Act funding.

For this fiscal year, a nearly $281 million budget gap is projected for Cook County, and that number could grow to a projected $410 million during the next fiscal year.

Preckwinkle has said the county is working to close those shortfalls, although she’s also hoping Congress passes another round of coronavirus relief that would include money for local governments. The Democratic led U.S. House has approved additional legislation, which it dubbed the HEROES Act, but the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate has not taken up the matter and is on recess until July 20.

“We’re hopeful that the Senate will take up the HEROES Act or some variant that provides support to local units of government,” Preckwinkle said. “We anticipate that there’ll be some Senate action.”

Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki said that despite the lack of aid for revenue loss that municipalities “desperately need,” the formula for allocating the $51 million will ensure communities hardest hit by the pandemic get their fair share of the funding. The county will release its exact calculations in about a week, Rizki said.

“Even before the pandemic, we knew several communities in our southern and southwestern part of our county were economically challenged,” Rizki said. “And then the pandemic just made those challenges worse. This is why looking through an equity lens was such an important piece.”

Also at the briefing were Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero, whose city is getting $788,000 from the CARES Act and Cook County commissioner Frank Aguilar, D-16th, whose district includes Berwyn and will receive more than $1 million.

“No one came to 2020 expecting a need to budget funds for a global pandemic,” Aguilar said. “No one could anticipate businesses shutting down, schools closing, parents being laid off and most of our vulnerable residents being forced to stay home. But it happens.”

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