Relief funds coming for Lake County businesses, communties

The mechanics of distributing $121.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding continues to evolve in Lake County with help for small businesses and municipalities next on the list.

Because of the obvious need for assistance on multiple fronts, one county official likened the task of determining how and where money should be distributed to building an airplane while flying it.

Nonetheless, a special county board committee is moving quickly to get money where it's needed.

The main categories are assistance to residents, businesses and public health, and reimbursements to the county and municipalities for essential services.

Any entity could easily make a case for more funding support, county officials say.

"One hundred twenty-two million is a lot of money, but with everything that we're going to have to deal with here, it's not going to be enough money to satisfy everyone," said committee member Linda Pedersen.

That means taking initial steps and adjusting as needed.

So far, the full county board has authorized an emergency appropriation of $19 million for COVID-related funding.

That includes $10 million for small businesses; $4 million for rental assistance; $2 million for food; $1 million for utility assistance; and $2 million to the county or COVID-related expenses.

On Friday, the special committee also recommended $10 million for municipalities and fire protection districts.

None of the funds for any program have been disbursed as yet, but the first payments are expected in coming weeks.

The county is working with townships as the day-to-day administrators to distribute food as well as funds for rent and utilities. So far, 18 requests totaling about $2.5 million from organizations servings hundreds of clients have been received, the committee learned Friday.

"We have every indication this is just going to be a first wave of requests," said Eric Waggoner, the county's director of planning, building and development.

Business funding will be available in coming weeks. Applicants for the initial pool of money have to have been incorporated for at least 12 months as of February and have gross annual revenue below $2.5 million.

An estimated 21,000 Lake County businesses meet that criteria. Help for newer businesses is expected to be forthcoming at some point as well.

"We hate to see folks excluded if it means the difference between life or death for a business," Frank said.

County board Chairwoman Sandy Hart, who sat in on Friday's meeting, noted that billions of dollars for small businesses are still available through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but the deadline is June 30.

The committee on Friday also suggested making $10 million available to reimburse municipalities and fire protection districts for coronavirus-related expenses.

Eligible expenses include setting up Zoom accounts, buying personal protective equipment, disinfecting public areas and facilities like police cars, for example.

Lost sales tax or other revenue, which is expected to drop by 30 percent in some communities, is not reimbursable.

Four mayors, including Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit, made pitches to the committee June 12.

Schmit, who heads the Lake County Municipal League, said a survey returned by 31 of 45 municipalities showed the communities already have spent more than $10 million on COVID-related expenses.

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