While many politicians and legislators began looking at a more equitable Chicago, after the murder of George Floyd, Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle has been working on creating more equity in Chicago since taking office. President Preckwinkle says a plan for racial equity in Cook County was always a priority.
“Cook County Government has to focus on racial equity if we are going to make an impact in the broader inequities in Cook County. That’s why we developed our Policy Roadmap in 2018. We must figure out how to address inequity with government resources.”
The first of its kind in Cook County, the board put forth its strategic plan with the policy roadmap in 2018 to advance equity in Cook County. On April 7, President Preckwinkle unveiled the Cook County Fund Report. The Cook County Equity Fund was created to reimagine systems around justice, public safety, health, housing, economic opportunity, community development, and social services to benefit disenfranchised communities. The fund seeks to create solutions needed to achieve equitable outcomes.
The Cook County Equity Fund had an initial allocation of $40 million in 2021. In the County’s 2022 budget, an additional $10 million was allocated to the fund for a total balance of $50 million. This total is included in the over $100 million in equity-aligned investments Cook County has committed to since 2021 and is in line with the Cook County Budget for Black Lives stewarded by Commissioner Brandon Johnson and passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
“When we say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we are calling on government to provide public accommodations in Black communities that have been denied resources for generations,” Commissioner Brandon Johnson said. “The investments in the Equity Fund Report align with the Budget for Black Lives movement to achieve public safety through community resources rather than criminalization and incarceration.”
Represented by 89 members from organizations and agencies across Cook County, The Equity Fund Taskforce outlined recommendations in alignment with the Cook County Policy Roadmap Subgroups which include Healthy Communities, Vital Communities, Safe and Thriving Communities, Sustainable Communities, Smart Communities, and Open Communities.
“The Chicago Jobs Council is a systems-change organization that does our work by building capacity throughout the field of workforce development and through advocacy and policy,” said Lisa Bly-Jones, Ed.D., Chief Executive Officer of CJC. “CJC recognizes that systemic, institutional, and individual racism creates disparities in the way people of color fare in the labor market. We Advocate for policies that reduce racial disparities in employment to improve economic outcomes for marginalized job seekers. Being new in my role as CEO of CJC, I was thrilled to participate in the efforts related to the Equity Fund. It’s been extremely rewarding to truly collaborate with community-facing organizations and develop priorities that are being supported by the county with these historic investments in equity.”
While the Cook County Board has plans to allocate and spend the funds over the next five years, President Preckwinkle has already outlined three major initiatives in community programs starting with Behavioral health services, the guaranteed income project, and the medical debt program. President Preckwinkle believes these three initiatives will have a strong impact on disenfranchised communities saying, “We’re going to create a behavioral health department in our Cook County health and hospital system. We’re going to do an asset inventory of where we are in behavioral health services and try to figure out what we need to do as government to fill in the gaps. We’re going to have a guaranteed income pilot, the largest one in the country, with $42 million invested in guaranteed income and we’re about to go out into the community and ask for partners to help us put that program together.
“The creation of the Cook County Equity Fund and Cook County Equity Fund Taskforce demonstrate that equity is not just an aspirational goal—we are funding it, we are putting it into action, and we are committed to working with our community partners to make these efforts inclusive, sustainable, responsive, and impactful,” President Preckwinkle said. “With our first Equity Fund Report, the importance and alignment of the Taskforce with our Policy Roadmap and comprehensive American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Spending Plan planning are clear.”
President Preckwinkle continued, saying, “we’re going to make a $12 million investment and trying to help people with medical debt. You know, the primary reason that working people are forced into bankruptcy is due to high medical bills. So behavioral health services, a guaranteed income pilot program, and a medical debt pilot program are the three things that that we’re most proud of, and that we think will have an impact”
President Preckwinkle also plans to invest 30% of $1 billion for lost revenue. $700 million total directly to community programs and $320 million for 2022 programs and initiatives.
“It’s not just in suburban cities, we have real problems in the city of Chicago with lead, and we have to do replacement of those water lines. There’s quite a bit of work to do around water infrastructure. In terms of digital equity, a quarter of the families in Cook County, don’t have access to the internet, broadband access, or a regular internet provider. We have to figure out how to not only get fiber optic cable to people but also make sure families have internet access and computers. We have partnered with companies to get residents free laptops and tablets into residents’ homes and into children’s hands.”
President Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board Commissioners spoke with residents, held town hall meetings, met with community partners, and conducted surveys in determining the services people needed and the types of initiatives the office should pursue as the County recovered from the pandemic. She says they will continue to find and collaborate with community-based partners in developing and executing these initiatives to create a more equitable Chicago.
Residents are encouraged to view the strategic plan and Equity Fund report at www.cookcounty.il.gov.