Proviso suburbs allocated $5.5M in Cook County COVID-19 aid

Villages must prove expenses are directly related to pandemic

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Michael Romain and Maria Maxham

Contributing Reporter and Editor

When Congress passed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, back in March, Cook County received around $429 million, of which the county decided to allocate $51 million to be divided up among county municipalities for COVID-19 relief.

The 14 suburbs in Proviso Township were allocated a total of $5.5 million. County officials said the funding was allocated based on population and other factors that were looked at through an "equitable lens," including what resources each municipality has at its disposal to respond to the pandemic, its median income and a variety of public health statistics.

Suburbs were then given an "allocation score," with the highest indicating the greatest amount of need.

The funds are reimbursable and only apply to "direct expenses related to coronavirus," according to the county's website. The funds cannot be spent to cover any revenue that the municipalities lost due to the pandemic.

According to county data, the five suburbs in Proviso Township that were apportioned the most funding were (with figures rounded up): Maywood ($686,000), Melrose Park ($658,000), Bellwood ($600,000), Stone Park ($585,000) and Broadview ($490,000).

Forest Park's allocation is $295,976. In a July 29 interview, Village Administrator Tim Gillian said it doesn't mean the village will get that money, though.

"People see that number and say, 'Wow! We have almost $300,000 to defray costs'," said Gillian. "But that's not how it works. That number is a cap on what Forest Park would be allowed. And we have to prove that expenses are reimbursable."

Gillian said the village probably won't see even close to that maximum amount since the county is only reimbursing COVID-19 direct expenses. The guidance from the county, said Gillian, has been changing in terms of what are allowable expenses and what are not. Originally, paying administrative employees who were home to stop the spread of the virus early during the pandemic was considered reimbursable; now, it's not.

Allowable expenses in Forest Park include the purchase of masks, supplies and hand sanitizer related to the pandemic. Gillian and Finance Director Letitia Olmsted are working on getting the numbers together.

In an interview on July 23, Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet Jr. said that not all suburbs that were allocated CARES Act funding from the county will necessarily receive that much.

He said that suburbs also can apply for reimbursable support up to 75 percent of eligible expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

"The county is asking that we submit to FEMA first," Norfleet said, adding that it's unlikely that Maywood will get even a third of the $686,000 that it's been allocated since it hasn't spent that much on direct COVID-19 expenses.

Norfleet said the largest COVID-19 spending by the village has been roughly $100,000 spent on personal protective equipment that was distributed to residents earlier this year. Other, much smaller, expenses have been on new equipment like sneeze guards for the police station and village hall.

Norfleet said the village may spend more reimbursable funds if circumstances change, such as if another surge of cases arises that will require the village to spend more on PPE.

"The only way you can get all of the money is if you have a justification for it," he said.

Earlier this year, Maywood Trustee Nathaniel George Booker introduced a program that would provide financial support to local businesses affected by COVID-19, but that idea was largely rejected because the village was cash-strapped and the county aid had not been authorized.

"We were quite conservative and careful about our expenditures, because we didn't know what revenue loss might be like in regards to property taxes," Norfleet said.

With the county's reimbursable CARES Act program solidly in place, the board may feasibly revisit the idea, he said.

County officials said that municipalities have until Dec. 30 to submit reimbursable expenditures while each municipality has until Sept. 30 to indicate "its intent (or not) to fully expend its allocated funds" by the December deadline, according to an online CARES Act Funding FAQ prepared by county officials and last updated on July 14.

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