CHICAGO (CBS) — Since the start of the pandemic, a COVID-19 response fund set up by the state and a network of non-profit groups has distributed more than $30 million in assistance, such as meals, health care services, and direct cash payments to those in need.
Gov. JB Pritzker, who set up the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund with the United Way and the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations in late March, said the fund has raised $30.8 million in private donations, which have been distributed to more than 114,000 families in four rounds of funding. The initiative was established to support non-profits during the pandemic.
“Events that once seemed unimaginable in this nation have now been going on for almost a half a year, and for too many there has been enormous loss,” Pritker said. “Despite its toll, Illinoisans have demonstrated an unsurpassed spirit of generosity and compassion for their friends and neighbors, and their communities.”
After nearly six months in operation, Pritzker said the fund will soon begin winding down operations.
“That’s not to say that there isn’t tremendous need out there, and we are encouraging people in fact to look at all the organizations that were vetted by this fund around the state,” he said.
The governor’s sister, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, chaired the foundation, and said grants were provided to more than 1,650 organizations working on the front lines of the pandemic. She said the grants supported:
- More than 7 million meals to almost 200,000 families;
- Direct cash assistance for more than 19,000 families;
- Utility assistance for more than 8,000 families;
- Short-term rental assistance for 5,250 families;
- 4.8 million supplies for individuals and families, emergency workers, and others;
- 27,000 nights in emergency shelters for families;
- and 11,0000 health and mental health visits.
“This was truly an all-hands-on-deck moment, and an all-hands-on-deck effort to help our most vulnerable, and I was blown away by the generosity and commitment of so many people to this important cause,” Penny Pritzker said.
Among those receiving funding from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund was the Farmworker & Lanscaper Advocacy Project, a Chicago-based non-profit supporting low-income Latinx workers in the farming, canning, greenhouse, landscaping, meat, nursery, meat-packing, poultry, restaurant, and snow plowing industries.
The group’s executive director, Alexandra Sosa, said the fund helped provide the necessary tools for very low-income farm workers to survive the pandemic.
“Our very low income Latin community is struggling. They are in the fields. They are growing the vegetables that we have every day on our tables. They are infected by COVID-19, because they are not able to work from home,” she said.
The Farmworker & Lanscaper Advocacy Project received a $900,000 grant from the fund, allowing it to provide direct cash assistance to nearly 800 low-income workers, according to Sosa.
While the fund will now be winding down, Gov. Pritzker encouraged people to donate to any of the hundreds of non-profits which received direct or indirect grants from the program.
“We are encouraging people in fact to look at all the organizations that were vetted by this fund around the state,” he said
A list of those who received grants is available on the fund’s website.
Meantime, Pritzker said he’s still hoping Congress can reach a deal on a new COVID-19 stimulus package, including federal funding to help state and local governments that have lost significant tax revenue.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday the Senate would vote on a “targeted” coronavirus relief package this week as negotiations between Democrats and the White House over a larger measure remain stalled. The Senate bill does not include funding for state and local governments.
Pritzker said Congress needs to come up with that funding to help state and local governments avoid laying off a huge chunk of their workforces.
“It will harm the economy of the country if there are massive layoffs that occur as a result of a failure of state and local funding,” he said.
The governor noted large corporations have received billions of dollars in federal funding in earlier coronavirus relief legislation, “but now when it comes to the very social services, the very education, the front-line first responders – our police and our firefighters – now they’re gonna fall short?
“Now they’ve decided that they want to tighten the belt and not give anymore to help people? It seems illogical to me,” he added.