Kane County Board committee proposes $4M in COVID-19 aid for social service agencies

The Kane County Board would make $4 million available to address social service needs spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic, under a proposal discussed by a committee this week.

The money would act as a pilot program to address repeated calls by local social service agencies to address growing waiting lists for mental health services and homeless shelter space.

The county is in line to receive $103 million from the federal American Rescue Plan. When county officials reviewed a plan that suggested it could justify keeping all but $17 million of that money to address revenue losses and ongoing expenses stemming from the pandemic, local social service agencies beseeched the county to put a larger share of the money into the community as soon as possible.

That outcry continued when the county board committee overseeing the federal funds met Wednesday.

Cheryl Gray, who manages the soup kettle ministry at the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, told the county's American Rescue Plan committee there are waiting lists for people facing mental health crises 80 families deep at places like the Greater Elgin Family Care Center. For people who speak Spanish, it can take up to eight months to get an appointment because of the lack of staffing and resources, she said.

"I hope you won't spend the money allocated for the county until everything has been sufficiently divided for items that are based on COVID and urgency," Gray said. "Rescue those organizations that have the greatest need first."

The county board has made no definitive plans for any of the funds at this point. Officials are hoping to develop a comprehensive plan by the end of the year. Until then, the committee reached a consensus to make up to $4 million available to social service providers, homeless shelters and food pantries.

The committee wants to meet with those groups Sept. 15 and 16 to learn about their short-term and long-term needs. It will match that information with what the county health department identifies as priorities among those needs, then take formal applications for grants to come out of that $4 million pool in October. Recipients would be notified in November and receive payments in December.

County board Chair Corinne Pierog pushed for at least $5 million for the pilot program. She didn't get her wish, but it did push the committee to increase the original plan to make $2 million available.

"Homeless shelters and food pantries alone could use that money, leaving very little for social services," Pierog told the committee. "If this is something we are going to be doing, I think we should do it well."

Pierog said the county would look favorably on requests for things like computer software or even funds to purchase a hotel to create more space to address homelessness rather than money to hire people or give raises.

"It should go into capital expenses and other efforts that will last a long time," she said. "Once the money dries out, that money is gone."

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