Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday, Oct. 5, presented a proposed $9.14 billion Executive Budget Recommendation for Fiscal Year 2024, which includes millions in funding for equity programs and pandemic relief without increasing taxes or cutting vital services.
Preckwinkle noted that the County was able to close a $161.8 million budget gap, one of the smallest gaps in her tenure as President, without the need for raising any new taxes, fines or fees.
In the coming year, with equity as the guiding principle of the decision-making process, Cook County will continue implementation of critical projects funded in FY2023 with nearly a quarter of the billion dollars from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
Preckwinkle provided a snapshot of some of the many programs that are moving forward in this budget and future years using federal relief funding while noting that Cook County will also be implementing a plan to continue providing services once federal funds are no longer available.
The county continues to identify grants and permanent funding sources for these programs. This reserve will provide the county with additional time and flexibility which is an important step toward sustaining vital programs established during the height of COVID-19 including:
- Guaranteed Income Program – Cook County launched the largest guaranteed income program in the country – a $42 million initiative started in FY2022 and will continue its work to provide recurring monthly unrestricted payments to 3,250 residents, selected through a lottery for two years to improve participants’ long-term economic stability.
- Medical Debt Relief – Partnering with RIP Medical Debt, Cook County is purchasing and retiring medical debt of income eligible patients of hospitals located within Cook County who are unable to cover their medical bills. The $12 million program will retire an estimated $1 billion in medical debt incurred during the eligibility period.
- Behavioral Health Services – To meet growing behavioral health needs of Cook County residents, CCH is continuing to transform its behavioral health footprint with $74 million in funding to offer a robust menu of mental and behavioral health services and ensure accessibility to residents, including the creation of a new Department of Mental Health Services.
- Violence Prevention – The County has made community investments in violence prevention a central priority. Through five separate initiatives led by the Justice Advisory Council, $114.8 million is being committed to address areas of focus like services for domestic violence victims and survivors, supportive housing for re-entry individuals and gun violence prevention/reduction.
- Stormwater Management – Partnering with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Cook County will invest $20 million to support stormwater management in communities that experience significant flooding, helping communities build climate resiliency.
In addition to its ARPA work over the last several years, Cook County established its Equity Fund in 2021 to achieve more equitable outcomes for residents across Cook County. In FY2024, the County will appropriate $70 million in new, additional funding, bringing total fund investments to nearly $130 million. Cook County is designating its casino tax revenue, including revenue from the new temporary Chicago casino, as a new permanent revenue source for the Equity Fund and equity-specific initiatives.
Preckwinkle also noted that in the face of many economic risks and budgeting challenges, Cook County has seen its bond rating upgraded twice and successfully pushed for landmark pension legislation.
To enshrine the County’s commitment to fully fund its pension obligations and avoid insolvency, the County worked with lawmakers, the County Pension Fund, and various other stakeholders to have its contribution schedule codified in state statute to help reach a 100% funded pension system in the next 35 years. Moody’s Investors Service recognized this new law as a reason for an upgrade in August.
“This progress is a testament to a decade of hard work, hard votes, a dedicated financial team and an unwavering commitment to responsible budgeting. We are in a strong position because we have faithfully been living within our means, doing more with less and creating structural budget solutions year after year,” Preckwinkle said.
All FY2024 budget information is now posted to the Cook County website, allowing the public to review documents and engage with the President’s Office directly. An interactive budget website is available providing historic financial data and detailed budget information. Residents can also now see how ARPA funds are being utilized via a new website — arpa.cookcountyil.gov — which has up-to-date reports and information on the hundreds of millions of dollars and over 70 programs the County is carefully managing.