(The Center Square) – They’re not the jobs working for small businesses that were largely affected by the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and bars, but there will be more taxpayer-funded temporary positions related to COVID-19.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is touting a jobs program that’s federally funded he said will place, train and hire nearly 1,300 people for temporary jobs starting this fall. At a cost of $16.6 million, that is about $12,769 for each temporary job. More than 1.4 million people in Illinois have filed initial unemployment claims since March.

Late last month, IDPH said it had awarded about $236 million to all 102 counties for the program and that more than 1,600 contact tracers had been hired statewide. Counties across the state reported hiring was ongoing.

The $16.6 million program that Pritzker announced in Rockford Thursday will place, train and hire nearly 1,300 people for temporary jobs, he said.

“Like contact tracers, like COVID-19 protocol workers, building sanitation workers, something relatively new, temperature screeners, and food preparation and distribution workers and so many more” Pritzker listed.

Appearing with Pritzker in Rockford, state Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, said the taxpayer-funded jobs were needed.

“As we try to recover economically, and as we try to contain the virus, this is incredibly important to making sure that we recover economically in this community and across the state as well,” Stadelman said.

Separately, state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said contact tracers may have been necessary early during the outbreak in certain hotspots like Chicago.

“But now it’s really too late I think to really help any further, I think we can better put our efforts and expenditure our funds elsewhere,” Sosnowski said.

He’s still getting calls from constituents who have problems getting through for unemployment benefits from the state.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday reported an additional 23,300 Illinoisans filed for initial unemployment claims last week, nearly 2,900 fewer than the week before.

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said a lot of times government-run temporary job programs can cost too much to administer. He said instead the focus should be on incentives to get small businesses back open.

“We can solve the problem by paying people to work or we can solve the problem by opening up the economy and putting people back to work in long term permanent jobs which should be our focus,” Syverson said.

Pritzker also said the temporary jobs would pay the prevailing wage. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity didn’t immediately respond to a requests for job descriptions or hourly rates for the positions.

The administration said the jobs could be expected to start posting this fall.

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.