Social services say Kane County shouldn't keep so much COVID money, but it hasn't decided yet
Social service providers are pressuring Kane County officials to put less of the $103 million in federal American Rescue Plan money into government expenses and more into organizations addressing the mental health and substance abuse fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But some county officials are grousing about what they see as an "unprofessional" and misleading tenor of the campaign.
The Association for Individual Development, Elgin Human Service Council and Kane County Advocates for Mental Health are sending emails and social media posts to supporters urging them to besiege the county board with messages urging the county to not spend all the money on itself.
"We need to continue to advocate for behavioral health and other important social services so our friends and neighbors can live healthy and fulfilling lives," reads one call to action.
The message goes on to say the county board has decided to increase the sheriff's budget by $20 million, keep the lion's share of the funds to recoup lost revenue during the pandemic, and "social services, businesses and other eligible entities would need to fight over $17 million."
The county board hasn't decided to do any of that. The board has yet to agree upon, or vote on, any plan that locks in any kind of spending of the federal funds.
That led county board member Vern Tepe to decry the calls to action during a county meeting Wednesday as distressing and inaccurate.
"This was one of the most unprofessional emails I've seen from a 501(c)(3) organization in this county," Tepe said. "For them to do a call to arms and send this out without even proper discussion with board members is extremely inappropriate. It makes them look pretty bad."
County finance officials have said the county can justify keeping all but about $17 million of the $103 million to recoup lost revenue. And a vote coming next Tuesday to lock in a revenue loss projection for 2021, which could be a precursor to the county keeping most of the money, is what has triggered Lore Baker, the president and CEO of the Association for Individual Development, to issue the call to action.
"It's not intended to be a slap in the face or any kind of a put-down," Baker said. "I totally understand you haven't decided what you're going to do with the funding, but it's not easy to trust anyone who says, 'Oh, this is ours, but maybe we'll spend it on something else later.'"
Baker doesn't have a specific amount in mind that she wants the county to spend on social service providers, but she said a start would be recouping funds that would have been available if creation of a new mental health board tax in Elgin and Dundee townships had not been stymied during the tax collection process.
And, making it so service providers could at least hire and retain some more staffing to address the increased needs caused by the pandemic would be even better, Baker said.