Downtown Oak Park FILE

Oak Park has received its first $19 million payment through the federal American Rescue Plan, according to Village President Vicki Scaman. Through the plan, Oak Park will receive a total of $38.9 million, split in two payments designated for use in spurring economic recovery in light of the financial damage caused by COVID-19.

“The first part of it is going to paying back the village for all the costs of service during COVID – overtime, firemen, barricades, costs of providing vaccination sites, all of that stuff,” Scaman told Wednesday Journal.

President Joseph Biden signed the stimulus bill, worth a total of $1.9 trillion, back in March. Funds must be spent according to the plan’s guidelines, which requires municipalities to have the funds committed for spending by 2024 and spent in full by 2026.

Immediate use of funds includes the replacement of revenues lost due to COVID-19 costs, as well as compensating for public health expenditures made in response to the virus, such as emergency aid, vaccinations and education. Stabilizing the financial state of Oak Park’s government will in turn lead to the steadying of the village’s economy, said Scaman.

“From my perspective, municipalities have the strongest opportunity to be in a position to help and guide their communities,” said Scaman. “If we’re unstable, how does the federal government imagine that small businesses are going to have support, that people who have experienced health concerns are going to have support, that our school systems are going to have support?”

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek told the village board during its May 24 meeting that the village will build an economic plan for the use of its share of the American Rescue Act with two key categories for long term recovery: economic mobility and COVID-19 health equity. Economic mobility pertains to both households and businesses. Under the umbrella of health equity, the plan specifies such areas as water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

During the meeting, Pavlicek said village staff will provide the village board with parameters and recommendations to help identify where to spend the $38.9 million, based on areas of eligibility laid out in the bill.

Wednesday Journal could not reach Pavlicek, who is currently on vacation, to determine village staff’s status regarding the development of those spending recommendations. Scaman promised, however, that the village will disperse the funds as transparently as possible.

The village of Oak Park will be able to use a portion of its American Rescue Plan subsidy to help the village’s business districts, according to Scaman, who was unable to state how the village intends to go about doing so.

“I have to be careful in trying to imagine, without board discussion and further guidance from our village manager and staff, on what’s the best use of the funding to help our small business districts recover,” she said.

The village president noted that there would never be enough money to give back what businesses lost as a result of the pandemic.

It remains to be seen when Oak Park will receive the second half of the designated $38.9 million, according to Scaman, who added she had heard of the possibility that the second payment could be smaller than promised or fall through completely.

“You want to be careful what you spend and what you allocate until you get the money in your hands,” said Scaman.

The “vague rumblings” she has heard have made her cautious to discuss potential avenues of spending related to the second payment. Municipal governments are always waiting for the next congressional vote when it comes to stimulus packages, according to Scaman.

“As it goes through each step of its approval, there’s always a possibility that some extra caveat gets thrown into it at the federal level,” she said. “But we are in a good position and very grateful for the funding.”

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