Cook County could have to return $329 million in CARES Act cash

Although Cook County received about $429 million in federal assistance Friday, officials say the money can go only toward local expenses directly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, currently projected to be about $100 million.

In discussing the receipt of the CARES Act cash, Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki said under current federal guidelines, it could not be used to plug a projected $260 million budget gap from lost revenue attributed to the novel coronavirus.

"And as you can see, that's where our biggest hole is," Rizki said during a teleconference Friday.

Rizki said updated 2020 budget projections indicate Cook County could incur $100 million in direct COVID-19 expenses for items such as personal protective equipment, jail personnel overtime and specialized facility work.

However, income could drop by about $260 million through a massive slide in sales, amusement and other taxes combined with a significant patient fee revenue decline for the health system due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in place since March, officials said.

Cook County could have to return $329 million to the federal government if the expenses directly linked to COVID-19 turn out to be $100 million at year's end, officials said.

"There's more discussion happening at the federal level that may change that," Rizki said. "And we hope so."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities are among the groups lobbying Congress for help with lost revenue on the municipal level.

This year's $6.2 billion county budget did not include any new taxes or layoffs, but it lopped hundreds of vacant health care positions. However, 265 positions were added, most related to courthouse and court clerk operations, officials said.

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