Will County outlines broad plans for $133 million in federal pandemic relief money

Officials aim to spend money on pandemic relief, infrastructure, economic development and a family stabilization plan

Will County Board members continued to discuss how they envision spending about $133 million in federal relief from the American Rescue Plan over the next few years.

During Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting, County Board Speaker Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, outlined the broad categories she, board leadership and staff formulated for how the money should be used, also based on suggestions from other members.

The money can be used to cover costs for responding to the pandemic, provide premium pay for essential employees, provide government services, and make investments in infrastructure, among other uses.

Cowan’s outline included four general categories: pandemic relief, infrastructure, economic development and a family stabilization plan.

“This is not comprehensive, nor is it binding,” she said Thursday. “These are just kind of brainstorming ideas.”

The relief category includes similar efforts to what the county did with about $120 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act when it distributed grants to struggling small businesses, nonprofits and others. The county also used a portion of that money for its own expenses like paying their public safety employees and pandemic-related upgrades to county offices.

She said the county could also partner with local governments to use funds on infrastructure efforts like stormwater projects or supporting the tourism industry, as examples.

Cowan added under the economic development category, the board should focus on the areas of the county most negatively impacted by the pandemic. This could also include financing a countywide economic development study and establishing a revolving loan program for local businesses, she said.

She also touched on a potential family stabilization plan, much like a program implemented in Franklin County, Ohio, which provides services and support for young people and their families who interact with the criminal justice system. It’s a concept some members have found worthwhile using in Will County, though Cowan said there are “lots of puzzle pieces yet to put in place.”

“That is a big program to implement, but I think with the right kind of assistance, we can get something going,” she said.

Cowan added Thursday’s meeting was meant to inform members of the proposed approach so they can fine tune it and eventually approve the framework. Members would also have to approve specific funding levels for each category of aid over the next several months, like an ac-hoc committee did with the CARES Act money.

“This is a broad based long process,” Cowan said.

Unlike the county’s process for distributing CARES Act funds, the board has a few years to distribute this pot of money.

Another difference from the CARES Act aid is that cities and villages will receive their own direct funds, so they won’t have to go through the county for aid. Joliet is receiving more than $20 million and other village are slated to receive various amounts, according to county documents.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.