Illinois lawmakers criticize Pritzker’s handling of taxpayer grants for businesses during pandemic

Thousands of tax dollars in Business Interruption Grants went to entities that weren’t eligible, less than 1 percent of the $275 million that was distributed, but Republicans and Democrats criticized the administration’s overall handling of the program.

During a budget hearing Tuesday, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Chief of Staff Cara Bader said at the beginning of the federally-funded Business Interruption Grants, the Secretary of State’s office had a backlog of business renewal applications.

“We did not make it a requirement of the program that active good standing had to be confirmed prior to receiving an award because we didn’t want to hold back that essential pandemic relief at the time based on a possible delay in paperwork,” Bader said.

Bader said the eight grantees that received funds that may be ineligible make up “less than [0.03%] of the overall funds awarded in the program.”

DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia said they’re working with companies they’ve now found not in compliance to get the money back.

“So for those eight businesses that are still in uncertain status, we’ve reached out to each of them and our lawyers are in conversations with them to confirm their status and if they’re not in good status we will work to claw back those funds,” Garcia said.

The state administered more than $500 million in Business Interruption Grant dollars over the past year with more money from federal funds expected.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, criticized a year’s worth of data indicating 50% of around $160 million in federal funds meant for business grants during the pandemic went to Cook County, which has 41% of the state’s people.

“As we move forward under CARES Act 3 and 4 through 20 that I’m sure are going to come in the next several years, I was hoping we’d get a fairer split for our communities,” Rose said.

It wasn’t just rural communities that didn’t get equitable funding. State Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, also criticized the department’s handling of the programs.

“When I look at the list for my area … they got hardly anything,” Castro said.

Castro said lawmakers were not included in developing or distributing dollars where they were needed most.

The department said it will continue to refine programs moving forward to be more collaborative with lawmakers to ensure dollars go where they are needed.