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Mayors take wait-and-see approach to Covid relief

By Bob Bong Coronavirus CDC 1

Congress approved and President Biden last week signed the massive federal Covid relief bill that includes direct payments to most taxpayers, more aid for restaurants and other businesses hit hard by the pandemic, and billions for schools, hospitals, states, counties and local municipalities.

The numbers are staggering. In Illinois, $7.5 billion will go directly to the state, another $5.5 billion will go to city and county governments, and schools are set to receive $5 billion.

Details are just starting to emerge on how the money will impact local communities. Though specific spending directives haven’t been issued to government recipients yet, suburban leaders anticipate the rules will mirror the requirements of the CARES Act, which became law nearly a year ago at the onset of the pandemic.

The Illinois Municipal League last week released a preliminary list of money earmarked for local communities, which is being distributed to communities based on their population.

Locally, Oak Lawn and Orland Park are at the top of the local list with about $7 million each, Evergreen Park also expects to get as much as $4 million, while Palos Hills is set to receive about $2.1 million.

Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz said the money will be paid out in two installments.

“There will be a first installment and then a second installment 12 months later,” he said.

He added that the money will be distributed by the state. “So, who knows when we’ll get the money.”

Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said village attorneys told him the village was in line for $3.6 million to $4.3 million, well above the $2.6 million on the list provided by the Illinois Municipal League.

“I like those numbers better than the Municipal League’s,” Sexton said Monday.

He repeated what other mayors said about waiting.

“We have to find out what we can spend the money on, what we can use it for,” he said. “This stimulus is more involved than the last one.”

He said he hoped he would be able to use it to offset retail losses.

“We forgave a lot of business and liquor licenses to help those people out,” he said.

Other elected officials were waiting to see before commenting on how they would likely spend the money.

“We did not budget for the money, so we have no specific plans,” said Straz. “I like to wait until we have the money in our hands before deciding what to spend it on.”

“We have been monitoring this closely, but because so there were so many late amendments to the bill before it was passed, I do not have an accurate figure to provide you at this time,” said Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney.

Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett had a similar take. “We are still trying to find out what the relief package provides for local governments.”

Worth Mayor Mary Werner is also taking a wait and see approach. “I am still waiting for all of the exact details of how we can spend the money. The current information we have been given indicates the money would need to be spent by the end of 2024.”

Countryside Mayor Sean McDermott shared their sentiments. “At this time, I do not have any details on our allocation.”

They aren’t the only ones waiting to see what happens.

The American Rescue Plan will provide more than $20 billion to establish a national COVID-19 Vaccination Program, with about $275 million going to boost the vaccination rate in Illinois.

Dr. Christopher Grunow is the health director for the Stickney Township Public Health District, one of the few township health districts in Illinois.

What does the relief bill mean for Stickney Township?

“At this time, I have no details,” he said Friday. He said he hoped to have some answers this week.

The relief bill also features aid for transit agencies and airports.

As part of that funding, $71.5 million will be invested into Midway Airport and $1.5 billion will go towards Illinois transportation workers to ensure employees are supported throughout this pandemic and service can be fully restored in the coming months.

The plan will provide crucial support for the hardest-hit small businesses. In total, the package invests more than $50 billion into America’s small businesses, with $28.6 billion going directly to restaurants as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

The program provides money that must be spent on payroll, rent or mortgage obligations, construction of outdoor seating; safety supplies; and inventory.

The period covered is from February 15, 2020, to December 31, 2021.

McCook Mayor Terry Carr, who also owns the Steak-n-Egger chain of restaurants, said, “Every little bit helps us get back on our feet.”

He said his restaurants are seeing business pick up as restrictions are loosened.

“We used to be open 24 hours,” he said. “Now, we’re open about 16 hours a day. It’s just not warranted to stay open 24 hours a day. It took a year to destroy things. It will take longer to bring it back.”

Everyone agrees the relief bill was needed.

“This week was nothing short of historic as I joined my colleagues in voting for the final passage of the American Rescue Plan,” said U.S. Rep. Marie Newman on Friday. “Since the onset of this pandemic, Americans have been asking Washington for a historic and bold relief package that meets the enormity of the challenges we face.

“President Biden’s American Rescue Plan lives up to that vision by putting shots in arms, money in pockets, children in schools and people in jobs. This comprehensive relief package is what we need to not only put an end to this public health crisis but also reignite our local economies, keep our small businesses open and put Americans back to work.

“Not only is this relief plan practical – it’s popular, with major support from Democrat and Republican voters. I couldn’t be prouder to have supported and passed this landmark legislation.”

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