SPRINGFIELD — Seven months after Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, local governments in Illinois are still fighting Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration over approximately $150 million meant for municipalities.
The Illinois Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of cities and towns in Illinois, already won a fight with Pritzker’s administration this summer over whether municipalities would be able to spend their share of CARES Act money on small grants for businesses in their communities.
But IML Executive Director Brad Cole said the program set up by Pritzker’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity as a compromise is unduly burdensome — especially on small municipalities with limited staff.
“There’s no reason to set up a lengthy process, pay millions of dollars to a consultant to handle it and then blame local governments for why it’s not being used,” Cole said, referring to the program’s administration through Oakbrook Terrace-based Crowe LLP.
Cole said some municipalities have given up on the application process, and was rankled by Pritzker’s contention last week that local governments just haven’t been applying.
“There are many municipalities that aren’t applying,” Pritzker said. “We need the cities to step up to the plate to make those applications.”
DCEO Director Erin Guthrie said her agency has been handling a recent uptick in applications for the money.
“There’s a lot of concern of whether the money’s going out quickly enough,” Guthrie said last week. “But the bottom line is we’ve seen a 250 percent increase in applications — dollars-wise…Just in the past couple weeks, huge spike in the dollars that have gone out the door: $21 million going out the door with another $30 million in the pipeline, waiting to be approved by the comptroller.”
Guthrie also said the agency is doing outreach to Illinois towns and cities so the municipalities can take advantage of the money, but acknowledged DCEO is a “lean team” given cuts and attrition to the agency in previous administrations.
DCEO is also administering $600 million in Business Interruption Grants — aka BIG — for businesses across the state affected by COVID-19. Much of that money is federal pass-through money from the CARES Act, but Cole alleged the program is cheating local governments of funding they should’ve gotten directly.
“Instead of giving that money to communities to be able to support the businesses in their communities, they took the money and decided how they were going to distribute it,” Cole said.
Pritzker defended the program last week, saying it was saving businesses that may otherwise have to shutter. As more regions of the state are put under mitigations to combat a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations lately, Pritzker said BIG grants will be prioritized for businesses in areas of the state that have been put under mitigations. Those mitigations include shuttering indoor service for restaurants and bars.