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Lawmakers ask Illinois officials to give downstate municipalities ability to help local businesses

State Sen. John Curran, R-Woodridge, in Springfield in 2019.

(The Center Square) – Businesses in the Chicago area have access to state and local channels to get federal COVID-19 relief money, but businesses elsewhere have only the state.

Some Illinois lawmakers want Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office to change that.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan panel from lawmakers from the House of Representatives and Senate, peppered officials from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Tuesday with questions about their proposed emergency rules to dole out the remaining $250 million in federal relief funds from the CURES Act.

Federal rules allow state and local governments to use some of their funds on local businesses, but DCEO’s rules disallow municipalities from doing so. The exception is larger counties like Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties, which received funds directly and are able to give out that money to local businesses as they see fit.

“The U.S. Treasury allows it. You have taken a step to limit it,” said state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove. “I would surmise, you’ve got that wrong.”

Many laws in Illinois delegate finer tweaks to their implementation to the commission, meaning it is able to suspend rules such as DCEO’s plan to restrict which counties are able to offer local businesses federal funds.

“If this were up for a vote today, I would vote to suspend the rules,” said state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock. “If there are no changes between now and next month’s meeting, I will also vote to suspend the rules because something’s got to be done here.”

Earlier this month, local government leaders decried the proposed rules, saying it goes against the intent of federal lawmakers.

“The rule was absolutely done unilaterally,” Brad Cole, director of the Illinois Municipal League, said Tuesday. “It provides uncertainty for 97 counties out of Illinois’ 102 counties. Everything outside of Chicagoland is going to be impacted by this and we feel that they are likely going to be negatively impacted by this.”

Also at issue was DCEO’s rule allowing them to reallocate funds not spent by some municipalities on November 1. The federal deadline for spending those funds is December 31. This, Cole said, will likely result in local governments having funds taken from them and funneled elsewhere by Pritzker’s office.

DCEO Deputy general Counsel Khama Sharp told the lawmakers that the state would be on the hook for any relief funds that were distributed and later found to have been administered inappropriately.

“One of our major concerns is making sure that the funds that have been dispersed, we are not at a later date having to deal with the fact that those funds have not been disallowed and that the state is now on the hook to have to repay those,” he said.

The commission is scheduled to meet again in August. DCEO officials pledged to meet with municipal officials and come to an agreement on the issue by then.

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