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Champaign County is getting more than $40 million in funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Now it has to determine how to spend it wisely.

One result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a wave of grants from the most recent federal virus relief act passed in March, extending down to even the smallest local governments. In Champaign County, for example, the cities of Champaign and Urbana are expected to receive about $25 mil-

lion and $12.5 million, respectively. But Champaign County government is getting a windfall: $40.7 million.

That’s one of the largest sums of any county in the state. It dwarfs the amounts given to smaller counties like Vermilion ($14.7 million) and Piatt ($3.1 million). And it also increases pressure on county officials to spend the good fortune wisely, strategically, thoughtfully and in a fashion that will help Champaign County fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The county government has already asked for ideas on how to spend the godsend — and the county board will hold a public study session on Zoom at 6 p.m. Tuesday about those suggestions — within the federal guidelines. In general, that means helping recover revenue lost because of the pandemic; covering for additional virus-related expenses; investing in infrastructure; and providing assistance to community businesses and agencies that have been harmed in the last year.

The county has to be careful, though, not to duplicate spending by other governments that are also providing recovery funding. For example, it shouldn’t give assistance to local businesses if the state or city governments are doing the same. One frequently mentioned idea for spending is expanded broadband access within the county. But the has state already said that will be a priority with its recovery act funding.

The county government itself has a long list of potential uses, everything from IT network upgrades to digitizing records and expanding jury boxes in the courthouse to possibly finally closing the inefficient and unsafe jail in downtown Urbana and consolidating facilities at the satellite jail.

There also are real community needs to address, particularly those that were aggravated by the pandemic. A short list offered to the county board includes:

  • Expanded, high-quality child-care facilities so that parents can return to work.
  • Improved mental-health and crisis-intervention services to address gun violence in the county.
  • More low-cost housing for families and individuals.
  • Mapping the Mahomet Aquifer beneath the county to better understand its capacity and environmental effects on its quality.

The county is expected to get its first federal relief funds in about a month, and although the money doesn’t have to be spent immediately, the idea is to get it circulating quickly to give the economy a boost.

That’s why it’s important for local governments to coordinate spending and avoid overlooking important needs and duplicating the distribution of aid. Let’s not waste this money or this opportunity to improve life in Champaign County.

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