Target 3 Investigates the Economic Cost of the COVID-19 Crisis

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (NEXSTAR) — The State of Illinois has spent more than half-a-billion dollars on COVID-19 related costs.

Thanks to the CARES Act and federal disaster relief funds, the federal government will reimburse the state for COVID-related expenses; but they’re still your tax dollars and you may be surprised about how some of it was spent.

WGN Investigates previously reported how the state spent $1.7 million for two charter flights with masks and gloves from China and $460,000 for 800 iPhones to be used as portable tablets for health care workers to enter medical records.

Other expenditures include:

+ More than $104 million dollars to reimburse the Chicago Board of Education and other school districts and non-profits that provided meals during the pandemic.

+ More than $11 million to staff the alternate care facility at McCormick Place, where only 38 patients were transferred.

+ $395,000 dollars to GMMB Inc., a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm that did paid campaign work for Governor Pritzker. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency hired the firm to buy ad time for COVID-19 public service announcements, one of which featured the actress Jane Lynch. A spokeswoman said GMMB Inc, was the lowest bidder for the project.

+ $284,310 for “sliced bread” for state prisons.  A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections says the state’s prisons have had to buy loaves from an outside vendor because an in-house bakery operation was suspended due to the virus.

In all, the state has spent a total of more than $531 million on Coronavirus related expenses.

Governor Pritzker’s emergency powers allow him to spend taxpayer money without the usual levels of oversight, but some state Republican leaders say there needs to be more checks and balances.

“We’ve had virtually no oversight,” says Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). “We’ve been asking the governor for months to share the data behind his ‘data-driven decisions’ they’ve been making.”

In a push to prepare for the worst case scenario, IEMA booked space for alternate housing.

The state paid $3.5 million to rent out six Illinois hotels for first responders, healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients who might have required isolation.

“Whenever you do contingency planning you prepare for the worst based on the information you have,” said Illinois Emergency Management director Alicia Tate-Nadeau.  “We would have simply been negligent if we did not have a plan to be able to take those folks, get them off the streets, give them a place that they could isolate quarantine, ensure that they were the COVID positive.”

While it may have been well-intended, the service may have not been needed downstate.

In Springfield, a total of more than 400 rooms were rented out at two hotels, at a total cost to taxpayers of $1.3 million. But not a single person ever stayed at either property. 
“It was money we had to spend,” state Representative Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) said. “We didn’t really have a choice.”

With checks flying so fast, how do taxpayers know they’re not getting what they paid for?

Tate-Nadeau says, “there is a lot of snake oil that’s out there right now.”   Comptroller Susana Mendoza says many vendors jacked up their prices. Some even tried to scam Illinois and other state governments.

“Every day people are attempting to scam not just our state but every state purchasing PPE… so it’s important to have a relationship with the FBI and state police which are part of our vetting process,” Mendoza says.

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