ROUNDUP: As Illinois reopens, pandemic response leaves hardest hit behind

Here’s what we’re reading as Illinois and Chicago prepare to advance into the next phase of reopening businesses and public spaces.

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Photo by Max Herman

Inbal Amit-Palombo joins by bike the “Right to Recovery” protest demanding a recovery plan that invests in black and brown working families most impacted by the pandemic in the Loop on May 7, 2020.

As Illinois and Chicago prepare to enter their next phases of reopening, recourse for some of the state’s hardest hit populations remains limited or unresolved. Here’s what we’re reading this week on how the crisis is continuing to play out for vulnerable residents. 

Topics: Safety-net hospitals | Undocumented residents | Housing | Remote learning | Water shutoffs | Courts | Policing | Privacy | Nursing homes | Marijuana equity | Reopening

Vulnerable populations 

Treating the poorest patients: A proposed merger of four South Side hospitals serving poor neighborhoods failed after state legislators declined to fund it, sending a worrying signal about whether chronically underfunded “safety-net hospitals” now bearing the brunt of the pandemic will be able to survive the crisis, Crain’s Chicago Business details. This issue is also playing out for health facilities that serve Medicaid patients nationally. 

Some relief for undocumented residents: Illinois will become the first state to provide Medicaid for undocumented seniors thanks to provision in the budget implementation bill that passed the Illinois General Assembly last weekend.

Local grassroots community groups have raised close to $250,000 so far to put cash in the hands of undocumented residents who are ineligible for stimulus checks, but say they’re overwhelmed by the demand for help, Chicago Sun-Times reports

Keeping struggling residents housed: After a bill that would have  cancelled rent and mortgage payments for people experiencing coronavirus-related hardships in Illinois failed to advance, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would extend the statewide moratorium on evictions as mounting unemployment puts thousands of residents in danger of missing more payments next week. Legislators also increased funding for a tenant and landlord relief fund and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is proposing extending protections for tenants facing no-fault evictions. Chicago has also made some financial moves to preserve and acquire subsidized housing units. 

Meanwhile, Chicago Tribune reports that although 89 people in Chicago’s low-income housing have died due to COVID-19, subsidized housing residents have been told little, if anything, about cases where they live, even though they are generally older and in poorer health. 

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Remote learning: Newly unveiled data shows that fewer than 60% of Chicago Public Schools students are engaging with online remote learning three or more days per week even though more than 90% of students have digital access. Vulnerable students of color and homeless students are logging on at lower rates, raising concerns about the viability of summer classes for students at risk of failing. 

Chicago Tribune detailed the predicament of the city’s teenage essential workers, picking up jobs to help out their families struggling during the pandemic while keeping up with remote learning. 

Water shutoffs in limbo: Last month, we reported with WBEZ about how an unknown number of Chicagoans may be without water supply during the pandemic due to unpaid utility bills. Last week, city officials acknowledged that they don’t have a plan to restore services to residents who had their water disconnected but that affected individuals should contact the city’s finance department to enroll in a payment plan to get their water restored, offering little recourse for renters who rely on their landlords to pay the city for water services. Community organizations have made efforts to aid affected residents while waiting for city action, WBEZ details. 

Law and order

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Containment at the courts: The Cook County courts shutdown will extend into July, renewing concerns over the safety of incarcerated individuals whose cases are stalled while new arrestees continue to be booked at Cook County Jail. Officials say the facility has contained the outbreak of COVID-19 cases there while advocates argue the opposite in a lawsuit, Chicago Tribune reports. Advocates have also launched a court-watching program to ensure that defendants aren’t being sent to jail simply because they can’t afford bail, Block Club Chicago reports

Pandemic policing: All arrests and almost all citations for violating the stay-at-home order in Chicago were issued in majority-Black and Latino neighborhoods on the South and West sides between March 20 and May 21, Block Club Chicago reports

Protecting privacy: A controversial resolution to share the addresses of individuals confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 with suburban 911 dispatchers was nixed due to the first-ever veto by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who said it was “terrible public policy” that would violate privacy and contribute to systemic racism. 

Reopening highs and lows 

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What’s open in your region of Illinois’ coronavirus plan?


The racial divide in hard hit nursing homes:  As nursing homes account for about half of all coronavirus deaths in Illinois, Pritzker issued a new emergency rule pushing testing responsibilities to the facilities themselves. The Southern Illinoisan details how homes with a significant number of black and Latino residents have been twice as likely to be hit by the coronavirus as those where the population is overwhelmingly white in Illinois and other states. 

Marijuana equity a pipe dream? With Chicago’s first downtown pot shop opening this week and millions in cannabis tax revenue now available to fund grants for communities most impacted by the War on Drugs, diverse marijuana entrepreneurs fear they’ll miss out on the emerging industry due to coronavirus-related delays for social equity applicants, Chicago Tribune reports

Illinois ahead of the curve? Illinois is possibly the only state to meet all of the White House’s criteria required to reopen for business, according to a ProPublica analysis. The state has also demonstrated transparency in its pandemic-related spending, maintaining the most detailed tracking website in the country, according to a national survey by the Associated Press.

You can see a detailed breakdown of what’s open and allowed in each phase of Illinois and Chicago’s reopening plans using our interactive tracker, developed in partnership with WBEZ.