Photo by Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury addresses a press conference held in Oak Lawn on Tuesday at which Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle discussed how the county government is distributing the federal CARES Act funding to local communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Behind her (from left) are Oak Lawn Village Clerk Jane Quinlan, Finance Director Brian Hanigan, EMA Director Captain Art Clark, 911 Communications Director Diana Tousignant, Trustee Bud Stalker (5th), Fire Chief Zackary Riddle, Preckwinkle, state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), and Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller (D-6th).
By Dermot Connolly
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle joined other state and local officials at a press conference in Oak Lawn on Tuesday to encourage local communities that haven’t done so already to apply for COVID-19 relief funds available through the federal CARES Act.
She said Oak Lawn has already received $680,000 in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act because the village was among the first municipalities to apply for the money. ViIlage Manager Randy Palmer noted later that Oak Lawn was actually the first municipality to receive the funds, which arrived by check in early August.
Preckwinkle explained that the money came out of about $429 million that the county received in late April from the federal government. According to the CARES Act, government entities with more than 500,000 people are required to distribute the money to the smaller communities within its boundaries.
She stressed that there is a Sept. 30 deadline for municipalities to at least inform the county that they are applying for the funds. She added that if the paperwork is not completed by then, County officials will work with them to get it done before Dec. 30, which she said is the absolute deadline for distribution of the funds.
“ It is a use it or lose it proposition,” she said, explaining that any funds left over after Dec. 30 have to be returned to the federal government.
“ Oak Lawn is a shining example of how this can work. I am encouraging officials in local governments to fill out the paperwork quickly. We will help you,” said Preckwinkle.
Many local communities, such as Palos Hills, Palos Heights and Orland Park have at least applied for the funding, and some have received it. But Ammar Rizki, the Cook County chief financial officer, said that as of last Friday, just 41 of more than 130 municipalities outside Chicago have applied. “But the pace is picking up,” he said.
Orland Park has received just under $500,000 in CARE funds, which Mayor Keith Pekau and other members of the village board has said is less than the village deserves on a per capita basis.
Preckwinkle said on Tuesday that the county worked with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning “to create a consistent, thorough, equitable and legal distribution process.”
“ I am proud of the result,” she said, adding that the National Association of Counties has praised it as well.
Preckwinkle said the funding formula is based on one-third of the population, and two-thirds on the effect COVID-19 has had on the community, and socio-economic factors.
“ I urge anyone who is unhappy to come and talk to me,” she said.
“ Oak Lawn was hit with a double-whammy,” said Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury. “Like homeowners, we have lost revenue and increased expenses,” she said, resulting in layoffs.
“ Forty percent of it was already used before we got it on the preliminary expenses, such as extra cleaning and setting up technology to allow for working remotely,” she said.
Bury said the money can only be used on pandemic-related expenses, including personal protective equipment for first responders. But having it means the village does not have to take from other areas to pay for those necessities.
“ What it means we can maintain critical operations, It goes a long way to helping us,” she said. “We don’t know what is coming next so we have to be ready.”
Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller (D-6 th ) has had about 1,500 COVID-19 cases, which does not include those at Advocate Christ Medical Center in the village. Village Manager Randy Palmer, the retired police chief, said about 20 first-responders in the village were among that number who became ill.
“ None of us ever had to handle something like this,” said Palmer, thanking Preckwinkle for getting the funds distributed quickly.
“ Get your documents together. Go online. The county will work with you,” Palmer advised other communities.
State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36 th ) thanked Oak Lawn for “leading by example,” and the county for “doing a timely job and really stepping up and helping the communities apply. Hopefully, all municipalities that qualify will follow suit.”
“ The 6th District ha been allocated over $13 million and we want to make sure it is distributed in an equitable fashion,” said Miller.