By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker and his sister Penny Pritzker announced Tuesday that a private fund that was formed to provide relief to communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic will wind down its operations after making its fifth and final round of grants.
Gov. Pritzker named his sister, a former U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration, to head up the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund in March, just days after issuing his first statewide stay-at-home order in the early days of the pandemic.
The fund has been operated by United Way of Illinois and the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations.
“And it answered the call when our state needed it most, and before the federal government had begun to help,” Gov. Pritzker said during a news conference in Chicago. “When the family bills couldn’t be paid, when people were trying to find connectivity for work and school, when pictures of empty grocery stores went viral on social media and paychecks were unpredictable, in no time at all the fund was addressing the need and donors were stepping up.”
Penny Pritzker said the fund distributed over $31 million to more than 1,650 organizations and provided over 7 million meals to nearly 200,000 families. She said it also gave over 19,000 families direct cash assistance, including 8,000 families who received utility assistance and 5,250 families who received short-term rental assistance.
“When my brother first asked me to chair this effort, frankly we did not know what was ahead of us,” Penny Pritzker said. “We did not understand the duration or the impact of the pandemic. We did not have a team, a timeline, money, infrastructure, a plan or even a name. We just knew there was such a vast and immediate need throughout the state caused by the COVID-19 crisis. So we started calling for support.”
In the fifth round of grants, totaling $7.5 million, the fund focused on underserved communities and communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in central and southern Illinois.
The Pritzkers highlighted three of the fifth-round recipients – the Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project to provide direct cash assistance to Latino community members; the Dream Opportunity Center for a workforce development initiative focusing on Black families and individuals; and Community Health Partnership of Illinois to provide health care services in rural communities through a mobile medical unit.
“Each of these grantees embodies our goals for this round,” Penny Pritzker said. “… They’re already doing critical work in their communities and we hope that our grants from the Illinois COVID relief fund will be able to amplify their impact, today and for the foreseeable future.”
The announcement of the latest round of grants came Tuesday as the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,392 additional cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths over the previous 24 hours.
That came after the three-day Labor Day weekend during which IDPH reported 5,590 new cases and 36 additional virus-related deaths. That brought the statewide totals since the pandemic began to 252,353 cases, including 8,186 fatalities.
The new cases reported Tuesday came from 31,363 tests, which made for a single-day positivity rate of 4.4 percent. The rolling seven-day average test positivity rate for Sept. 1-7 stood at 4.0 percent.
As of late Monday night, 1,504 people in Illinois were being hospitalized for COVID-19. Of those, 343 patients were in intensive care units and 133 of those patients were on ventilators.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.