In fiscal year 2021 (FY21), the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) responded swiftly to provide critical emergency financial assistance to Illinois businesses, communities and families hardest hit by the COVID-19 public health emergency through various programs funded by both state and federal funds. These included:
- Programs to support small businesses that suffered business interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Hospitality Emergency Grants - $14 million in small grants awarded to over 700 small bars, restaurants, caterers, and hotels. The grants were used to support working capital, like payroll and rent, job training, and technology, to support shifts in operations including increased use of carry out and delivery.
- Business Interruption Grants - an equity focused business relief program, which directed almost $467 million to over 9,000 businesses across Illinois, of which 40% were identified as minority owned businesses. This program also ensured geographic dispersion, awarding 20% of the financial assistance to downstate businesses.
- Childcare Provider Grants – Through collaboration with the Department of Human Services, nearly $105 million of financial assistance was provided to child care providers in disproportionately impacted areas and $84 million of financial assistance was provided to downstate childcare providers. Awards were given to 11,728 childcare providers, of which 57% were minority-owned providers.
- The Business Information Center at DCEO assisted over 37,000 people with questions and concerns about the COVID-19 response and relief programs, restrictions, executive orders, as well general questions about businesses.
- Funding to reimburse local governments for unexpected expenses incurred in response to the public health emergency.
- Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation (CURE) Program - Almost $203.6 million of eligible COVID-19 related expenses were reimbursed to nearly 900 downstate municipalities, counties, local health departments, and other units of local government not provided direct assistance by the federal government.
- Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation (CURE) Economic Support Grants - Approximately $16.2 million awarded to 60 different local governments throughout the state that were used to reimburse nearly 2,400 businesses experiencing significant disruption or temporary closures for eligible expenditures related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Emergency Downstate Small Business Stabilization Grants – Deployed more than $8.6 million in financial assistance to 425 downstate small businesses spanning 109 communities.
- Direct assistance to individuals facing financial hardships
- Emergency Rental Assistance - An equity focused program that aided over 10,500 Illinoisans who found themselves without the means to pay their rent through the administration of the Illinois Housing Development Authority and Department of Human Services.
- Utility Disconnection Avoidance - Automatically credited arrearages in customer accounts at the six largest utility companies in Illinois for low-income residents threatened by imminent utility shutoff. Over 120,000 utility accounts were made whole and prevented at least 60,000 household disconnections.
During fiscal year 2021, DCEO remained committed to advancing the 2019 Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan:
- The Office of Broadband (IOB) opened Round 2 of the Connect Illinois program and continues to work with applicants and future grantees to understand various state grant requirements and make the Connect Illinois program as efficient and effective as possible. The office released a publicly-facing interactive map and over 1,600 PDF maps that provide various perspectives and data related to broadband access in Illinois. In addition, IOB stood up complementary programming focused on community planning and capacity building (Illinois Connected Communities) and regional engagement for adoption and digital equity (Broadband READY) and worked with various stakeholders to further enhance and educate the Broadband community.
- The Office of Illinois Works designed the Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program grant opportunity which will establish a network of community-based, nonprofit organizations throughout Illinois to recruit, prescreen and provide pre-apprenticeship skill training to create a diverse pipeline of workers who are prepared for careers in construction and building trades. This opportunity accepts applications in fiscal year 2022.
- The Fast-Track Public Infrastructure Grant Program awarded $21.6 million to 15 communities across the state to support hundreds of construction jobs for the summer season and provide a boost for planned public works projects that may have otherwise been affected due to COVID-19 losses. This stimulated the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis by quickly getting Illinoisans back to work on public infrastructure projects that are valuable to their communities.
- The Shovel Ready Sites Grant Program application period resulted in 12 projects across the state receiving notice of awards totaling $13 million. Supported projects include: site acquisition, brownfield redevelopment, site preparation and rehabilitation of empty buildings and vacant spaces. Preference was given to projects in underserved communities. These projects will create hundreds of construction jobs and serve a variety of end-purposes, including after school programs, affordable housing, business incubators, job training, recreation, transportation, and urban farming.
- The Competitive Public Infrastructure Grant Program received over 350 applications. Award announcements are expected in fiscal year 2022.
Throughout fiscal year 2021, DCEO continued to operate most of its core programs successfully even while receiving significantly increased funding levels. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Community Services Block Grant Program (CSBG) received double the normal allocations in order to expand services to be responsive to the increased amount of people needing assistance keeping their homes heated, food on their tables, getting to and from work while mass transit was closed, etc. The LIHEAP program increased services by over 47% and CSBG services increased by nearly eight (8) times. The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program reported an increase in clients trained as the SBDCs were providing vital frontline help to small businesses affected by the pandemic and connecting businesses with relief and recovery programs. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) reported more jobs created and retained attributable to PTACs, which is exceptional in the pandemic environment. The Angel Investment Tax Credit program reported double the amount of investment dollars leveraged. This was driven by significant outreach to women and minority owned startups. Lastly, while the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act/Trade Adjustment Assistance programs had fewer participants due to the pandemic, their employment rates after training remained on par with prior years.
DCEO remains steadfast in its promise to bring and sustain jobs, businesses and opportunity to Illinois. Our efforts continue to be guided by the state’s economic development plan: A Plan to Revitalize the Illinois Economy and Build the Workforce of the Future. DCEO expects that Live Theater Production Tax Credit Program and Tourism will rebound in fiscal year 2022 as the State has reopened. Also, DCEO is offering new programs intended to improve economic conditions that include, but are not limited to, Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant Program, Rebuild Downtowns and Main Streets Capital Grant Program. Lastly, in fiscal year 2022 DCEO is excited to begin implementation of the programs provided in the Energy Transition Act and administer the Reimagining Electric Vehicles (REV) Illinois Program aimed at incentivizing EV production across Illinois.