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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle not ready to consider layoffs as ‘economy falls off a cliff’ because of coronavirus crisis

Wednesday, April 08, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

The double whammy of plummeting tax revenue and high health care costs thanks to the coronavirus will hit Cook County’s budget hard, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday, but she wouldn’t predict whether she will need to consider layoffs to cope with the financial disaster.

On a conference call with other county officials from around the country, Preckwinkle said her finance team is working to figure out how bad the 2020 budget shortfall will be. The county gets about 65% of its revenue from “economically sensitive” sources such as the sales tax, which will take a deep dip as people stay home, she said.

“We hope to have those projections by late April,” said Preckwinkle, who announced Wednesday that she is self-isolating for the rest of the week because a member of her security team has the virus.

Cook County has more than two months of expenses in reserve, Preckwinkle said. “But clearly, when the economy falls off a cliff, even people who have the recommended reserves are challenged,” she said. “So crunch time for us, I think, is May, and my financial staff is working very hard to find out where we are financially and what projections are for revenue and expenses beyond May.”

She also noted that of the more than 200 patients currently at Stroger Hospital, about half are there because they are suffering from symptoms of COVID-19. “And I can’t tell you whether any of those or all of them are insured, either private insurance or through a Medicaid expansion program or Medicaid itself,” Preckwinkle said.

Cook County likely will resort to short-term borrowing to make ends meet, through a line of credit county commissioners recently activated, Preckwinkle said.

“We’re not going to have sufficient reserves to keep all of our employees on forever, so the question is how long will the shelter-in-place order continue, and then what is our fiscal situation,” she said.

Twitter @_johnbyrne



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