Billions of dollars are headed to Illinois state and local governments from the COVID-19 relief bill. The intention is to get the money quickly into the economy, but it also must be spent wisely.
There’s an almost unfathomable amount of money headed into the U.S. economy from the American Rescue Plan, passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, about $7.5 billion will go to Illinois state government and another $6 billion will go to local governments in Illinois.
Locally, the windfall can be used
to help a lot of governments, businesses and individuals that were harmed by the pandemic. Champaign County government, for example, expects to get $41 million — about a year’s worth of general fund spending — said County Executive Darlene Kloeppel. Urbana stands to get $12.5 million, according to Mayor Diane Marlin, and Champaign’s portion is estimated at $25 million.
These state and local governments bore extra, COVID-19-related costs over the last year and suffered some revenue losses, particularly from sales, hotel-motel and food and beverage taxes. They deserve to be made whole. But so do the businesses that were affected by government-decreed limitations and closures. We trust local officials will find fair and creative ways to help these businesses.
But there’s money beyond that that is available, and we implore state and local officials to spend that money prudently on one-time expenses that will help lift the victims of the pandemic.
In Illinois, the top priority seems to be, according to Comptroller Susana Mendoza, paying back the $3.2 billion the state borrowed from the Federal Reserve to fund virus-related costs.
“After we pay the debts,” Mendoza wrote last week, “other stimulus money will plug the holes created by the prior presidential administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the advice of experts been followed earlier, the pandemic would have cost far fewer lives and wrought far less havoc on Illinois jobs and businesses than it did.”
It’s heartening to read Mendoza’s advice, and we hope Gov. J.B. Pritzker and members of the Legislature follow it. This is not the time for spending on new, ongoing programs. It is the time to pay off debts and pay back vendors.
Locally, for example, Champaign County officials are going to have to brainstorm fairly quickly how to spend their part of what Kloeppel called “an overwhelming amount of money” to help the local economy.
She said the county could get as much as half of the money by May, so it’s imperative to start discussing the allocation now so it can be injected into the economy quickly. One logical target is the county’s information technology system, which has long needed an upgrade. The pandemic exposed its shortcomings.
The same sorts of thorough discussions need to be going on now at every level of government. Don’t waste this opportunity to address, with federal funds, needs and shortcomings that the pandemic has exposed.