Lake County allocates $75 million more in federal COVID relief funding
By Mick Zawislak
Aside from a reserve for contingencies, all of Lake County's $121.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds have now been earmarked to help residents, businesses, municipalities and others.
The county board at a special meeting Monday authorized an emergency appropriation of $75 million of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to be distributed across six categories: resident support and assistance; business and economic assistance; public health support and assistance; municipal and local essential services; county-wide essential services; and personal protective equipment stockpile and distribution.
The action caps a whirlwind of activity guided by a special county committee formed in May to identify who needed the funds most and how to get it to them as quickly as possible.
"This has really been a lifeline for our residents," said Linda Pedersen, a Republican county board member from Antioch who served on the special committee.
"We could easily have spent three times that," added committee member Steve Carlson, a Republican who represents the Gurnee area. "I think we rose to the challenge and am very proud of it."
Before Monday, $30 million had been appropriated food banks, rental and utility assistance, grants for small business and other uses identified as high priorities. The first batch of $10 million in business grants is still in progress and another $10 million was added to the program Monday.
Funding also is being used to reimburse municipalities and fire protection districts for COVID-19 expenses, with $25 million earmarked Monday.
"All we've done so far is sort of push the money into the programs. The township and food banks were awarded first," said committee Chairman Paul Frank, a Democrat who represents the Highland Park, Highwood and Deerfield areas.
According to Lake County Forward. a clearinghouse of information regarding the relief funds, most food pantries have seen a 50% or more increase in demand since February. Three-quarters of the 2,200 families who attended a recent pop-up food distribution event at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee had never used a food pantry before.
About $16 million received by the county is unallocated and being kept in reserve for unforeseen or emerging expenses. Under CARES Act rules, the money needs to be spent by the end of the year.
County staff built programs within each funding category to meet the guidance and intent of the Lake County Board and meet the needs of Lake County residents.
"There's never been a project like this in the history of Lake County," said county board member Angelo Kyle, a Democrat representing Park City and portions of North Chicago, Waukegan and Gurnee. "This has been a huge project and to get rid of the bureaucracy and red tape government has the reputation of (having) has been a phenomenal process in itself."
A comprehensive report on where the money is going will be made public.
"We will have a very rigorous transparency effort. That's part two of this," said board member John Wasik, a Democrat from Grayslake.
For more information on the funding and where it is going, visit lakecountyil.gov/forward.