FILE - U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., wears a mask that reads "Heroes Act Now" as he appears at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, July 24, 2020, on the extension of federal unemployment benefits.

(The Center Square) – The next phase of federal aid from Congress amid the COVID-19 pandemic could allow state and local governments to use already released federal funds for tax revenue shortfalls from government shutdowns.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, said such flexibility will be important, but it shouldn’t negate the need for state government to address problems that have plagued Illinois since before the pandemic, he said.

“The pension system still needs to be addressed, we need to start running balanced budgets through every single year and we need to make Illinois a state that people and businesses want to come to,” Ugaste said.

In Springfield, City Budget Director Bill McCarty said city officials don’t want to increase taxes again. He said the city has worked for years to shore up costs, streamline services and keep employee headcounts down all while increasing their surplus. But that won’t help offset the lost revenue from diminished economic activity amid the pandemic. Flexibility to spend COVID-relief funds will be critical, he said.

“That combined with utilization with some of our record [city level] reserves that we’ve built up over time will help greatly reduce the types of cuts that we’re looking at doing,” McCarty said.

Heading into the weekend Friday the White House said negotiations continue on a Phase 4 relief plan from Congress.

There’s a difference of opinion of some other elements of a COVID-19 relief.

Some employers in Illinois note the increased unemployment benefits during the pandemic is making it difficult to bring their former employees back on. But U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago, opposed letting increased benefits expire.

“A Republican failure to continue the $600 a week federal unemployment supplement would represent a racially discriminatory action, period,” Davis said.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said all aspects of pandemic era unemployment benefits are being debated, especially as in Illinois, the Department of Employment Security has been hit with reports of website failures, security problems, backlogs of getting benefits out, unavailable phone access, and even debit cards with unemployment benefits for people who have either died or didn't apply for unemployment benefits. 

“But when we’re seeing fraud, we’re seeing mismanagement, incompetence, at the state level in getting those dollars to who need them the most, that’s a question that we then have to address as we begin debating the next round of COVID legislation, for sure,” Davis said.

Another element White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was looking for heading into the weekend was ensuring any new dollars for education either go to schools that are open or for scholarships to private schools.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.