Latest COVID relief bill ‘shot in the arm’ for local government

The $ 1.9 trillion US bailout package adopted by Congress on party principles and signed by President Joe Biden last week is a welcome help for many in the local government in the Peoria area.

In addition to stimulus payments of $ 1,400 for many Americans and increased unemployment benefits, the bill includes $ 7.5 billion for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to fight the coronavirus.

The bill also includes $ 140 million in relief funding for the counties of Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford. For the city of Peoria, one-time relief funds are welcome to ease the shock of a painful cycle of fiscal readjustment triggered by declining income as the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed last spring.

“The city planned to borrow $ 10 million in 2021 in order to balance the budget,” said Peoria City manager Patrick Urich. “So that will allow us to avoid having to borrow, and then the cost of repayment over 20 years will be avoided.”

Urich plans to recommend using part of the $ 46 million the city is expected to receive to avoid this expensive loan. It will also recommend ending the practice of intermittent leaves of absence for non-union employees until the end of this year in order to reduce costs.

Other items, such as the potential restoration of the fire department cut in the latest round of extended budget cuts, are said to be under discussion in city council, possibly in May.

“It’s a needed helping hand for all of us, and I hope we can have a good discussion,” Urich said.

Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said there were plenty of opportunities for his part of the help.

Zimmerman said: “$ 25.7 million is a lot, or maybe too little. But I think we’re really going to explore what we can do to make the most of it.”

Half of the relief funds must arrive in local government coffers within 60 days of the bill being passed, with the second installment due within 12 months. Part of these dollars is earmarked for infrastructure projects such as water, sewage – or in this case – strengthening reliable internet access, especially for rural areas. Zimmerman said he spoke with Sheriff Jeff Lower about using some of the funding to build more cell phone towers.

“It would give homes more visibility, or access to 5G, for some of these dead zones,” Zimmerman said.

The federal relief bill also includes $ 128 billion in grants for local education agencies across the country.

Peoria County Regional Schools Superintendent Beth Crider said the relief funding will not only help alleviate some expenses caused by the pandemic, but also keep children safe in the school building.

“The priority has been to get the kids back to school,” Crider said. “And if you want the children to be in the school building face to face with their teachers, you have to be able to have the support and the PPE (personal protective equipment) to make sure that it can. be done safely. ”

Crider said she was working hard to access funding from local school districts as quickly as possible.

The American Relief Plan also provides nearly $ 30 billion for transit systems. CityLink chief executive Doug Roelfs said the funding provides a sense of security and removes a lot of uncertainty.

“It takes away a lot of issues in the future so we can continue to provide the service. We won’t have to reduce routes and hours for the foreseeable future,” Roelfs said.

Airports, Amtrak and the aerospace industry also receive relief funds for transit.

Peoria’s local congressional delegation broke with party lines when voting for the latest COVID-19 relief package.

US Representative Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, opposed the bill. In a speech to the House shortly before the final vote, LaHood claimed Democrats had abandoned a bipartisan approach to assert their own political priorities.

“Instead of rewarding financially irresponsible states with huge bailouts, Congress should work together to encourage growth, focus on job creation and vaccine distribution,” LaHood said. “To generate a strong economy, we must remove government, open up our communities, and allow Americans to prosper.”

LaHood said unspent state and local government funding remains available from previously passed relief plans, and Congress should target aid more narrowly.

But U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, backed the bill which she says will help thousands of small businesses and the 113,000 children who still haven’t returned to class in the 17th Congressional District.

“No family in our region, in our state, across our nation, has been left untouched. Our sense of urgency could not be stronger,” Bustos said in a speech.

But while the federal stimulus package will help states and local governments in the short term with additional funding, Fitch Ratings said it doesn’t expect the aid to solve long-term fiscal stressors. , such as the increase in unfunded pension liabilities. The most immediate positive benefit to state and local government credit ratings will be the resolution of short-term deficits with relief funds, Fitch said.

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