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Who gets what from $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill
Big winners here include transit, low-income people, parents and the unemployed.

Sunday, March 07, 2021
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

The state of Illinois will get $7.5 billion to shore up its budget and pay off old bills. City Hall is in for roughly $1.8 billion, and the Regional Transportation Authority, a cool $1.5 billion.

Roughly 10.6 million Illinoisans—children and adults—will get stimulus checks of up to $1,400 each. Extra unemployment aid affecting half a million people is on the way, the average Obamacare premium for a couple will drop $1,300 a year and the state will receive an extra $275 million to speed COVID-19 inoculations.

 

GOP members of Congress unanimously say it’s all too much and has little to do with fighting the pandemic. But local Democrats are unapologetically defending what’s in the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that passed over the weekend and is awaiting a final vote in the House, and there’s no sign any of the designated recipients are about to reject the money.

“Huge win for Illinois families and businesses, and I’m proud to have helped spearhead aid for state and local governments, which will help stave off tax hikes and service cuts,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Schaumburg, in an email. “Combined with the aid for testing and vaccinations, the economic relief will help America recover both from the present health care crisis and the economic one.”

 

“Low-income people and the unemployed are more likely to spend (not save) the money and stimulate the economy,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in a briefing for reporters today, explaining why the package overall tilts in favor of those with modest financial resources. “We are finally close to putting this pandemic behind us.”

Here’s the breakdown on who gets what, coming from Durbin and fellow Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and confirmed by other congressional and local sources:

Illinois: The single biggest chunk will go to the state, which is expected first to pay off more than $2 billion in outstanding loans from the Federal Reserve and reduce its backlog of local bills, but likely will have money left over for other needs, perhaps public grade and high schools. The latter is a priority for new Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch.

The Senate did put some strings on some of that money. But unlike earlier COVID bills that allotted aid for specific purposes, rather than general use such as replacing state tax revenues lost in the pandemic, the new money is “considerably more flexible” in how it can be used, Durbin said.

Chicago: Mayor Lori Lightfoot, too, is likely to use a large chunk of the money for debts. Officials had planned to balance much of her 2021 budget by refinancing $500 million in debt and deferring repayment costs years into the future, a tactic known as scoop and toss. But they also said they’d hold off until seeing what, if anything, President Joe Biden was able to get out of Congress.

Some progressive members of the City Council already have been urging that any new money be spent, not saved or used as a substitute for borrowing. That could set off quite a fight in coming months.

 

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Public transit: The RTA money will be split among the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace. All had assumed they’d get additional aid and therefore wouldn’t have to reduce service this year, and that now appears to be the case.

Individuals: Significant as the aid to state and local governments is—$350 billion nationwide, plus $5 billion for K-12 schools in the state, and $1.3 billion for Illinois institute of higher education—the amount of money targeted for people is larger.

 

 

On top of $300 a week in extra unemployment help, $1,400 stimulus checks and higher subsidies for Obamacare, just over $10,000 of the unemployment aid in most cases will be tax exempt, a change from recent policy. And there are big new child-care tax credits that Democrats say will slash the child poverty rate, perhaps by half.

Other items include “hundreds of millions” just in Chicago and Cook County for both rental and mortgage assistance, and increased help for the federal agency that guarantees pensions, the latter helping 100,000 Illinoisans preserve their pensions, according to Durbin and Duckworth.

Restaurants and venues: And while the bill overall is modest in what it gives businesses, as opposed to individuals, restaurants nationally won a new $28.6 billion allotment, and theaters and performance venues $1.25 billion, on top of the $15 billion they got in the last bill.

No Illinois House Republican voted for the bill the first time around, and though the Senate tinkered a bit, none are expected vote for this latest bill when it comes up for final action later this week. Durbin said he expects Biden to sign the legislation almost immediately after he gets it.



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