U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, and other Illinois lawmakers have called for townships to be included in federal COVID-19 recovery assistance, and some Peoria-area township officials believe additional funding will help make ends meet.
Kindra Cunningham, office manager for Fondulac Township in Tazewell County, said more federal aid will help townships across the state cover extra expenses brought on by increased need for emergency services brought on by the pandemic.
“All townships provide general assistance, but only some provide emergency assistance. So anybody who's looking for help with rent and utilities is calling townships, and that means that some townships may even have to increase their general assistance case workers,” said Cunningham. “So there's definitely a cost there.
“I think that by allowing townships to receive some of that money would help them recoup some of the cost, because by statute townships have to provide general assistance to people who are eligible for that assistance whether they have the money or not.”
Bustos joined Sen. Dick Durbin and several other members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation in asking Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to include state-established townships in the allocation of aid from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund established through the American Rescue Plan relief package.
Fondulac Township supervisor Rick Swan said the township hasn't yet encountered any budget problems from the pandemic – so far.
“We've been able to operate as we do because we are very lean on the operational side,” said Swan, noting the township only has three full-time employees: Cunningham, and two workers at the township’s 22-acre cemetery.
“One of the concerns that we have is a lot of businesses and property owners are looking for tax relief from this, and we don't know where that's going to go over the next year or two,” he said. “If that happens, then that means the funding that we, the schools, the cities, and everyone gets will be reduced. So that means budget cuts, operational cuts, and that sort of thing, so we're watching that very closely.”
Pekin Township supervisor Shannon Saal said officials there also haven’t yet had to cut back any services out of budgetary concerns, but noted any additional funding is always welcome.
“We've been very fortunate. We have a lot of donations that come in, for our food pantry and such. So we're not really affected by it as of right now,” said Saal. “We don't turn anything away, so any assistance is greatly appreciated.”
In their letter to Yellen, the lawmakers said townships play a critical role for Illinois citizens, providing numerous services and maintaining 71,000 miles of roads. Swan noted the road maintenance aspect isn’t a factor in the Tri-County.
“A lot of (Bustos’) areas are rural areas, and they are very, very, very dependent upon townships,” he said. “We overlap here with cities and counties, where out in the rural areas the townships do most of the roads and they do a lot of the work that's done because they aren’t in municipalities.”
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