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Local leaders: COVID-19 heightens community inequities
by Matt Simonette

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Elected officials and as well as community advocates gathered the morning of April 24 for an online conversation about how inequities further complicate efforts to contain transmission of COVID-19.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, Chicago House CEO Michael Herman and Brave Space Alliance Executive Director LaSaia Wade all took part in the conversation "Intersection of COVID-19, the HIV Epidemic, and LGBTQ+ Marginalization: Reflections, Lessons, and Next Steps," which was sponsored by Chicago House and moderated by Chicago Reader Publisher ( and Windy City Times owner ) Tracy Baim.

Stratton admitted the state was "navigating uncharted waters" as it addressed the pandemic. Mendoza—who, as comptroller, is responsible for paying the state's bills—attested to that, describing a procurement process that has become the "Wild, Wild West" as officials try to secure personal protection equipment ( PPE ) and testing supplies for health personnel across the state.

Mendoza said that, at one point, officials from her office had to drive 100 miles with a check for $3 million in order to beat other states to a prospective supply of PPE.

Stratton acknowledged that COVID-19 is only heightening disparities that marginalized Illinoisans were already living with, and that the state was, among other actions, working to increase accessibility to tests for the virus.

"We have to bring an equity lens to the COVID-19 situation," she said. " … We have to have the conversation around this intersectionality."

Wade ( whose organization has been especially active in providing food, among other services, for its clients in the midst of the pandemic ) expressed frustration in that so many of the public conversations around relief centered on fortifying small businesses or the healthcare system—power structures that she said were marginalizing persons of color, the demographic Brave Space Alliance primarily serves, even before the pandemic came to the fore.

"At the core of our work, people are vulnerable already," explained Wade, who added that trans advocates experienced continual "pushback" from political and business leaders. She added, "There is not a drop of money that's even available for us in the first place."

Herman noted that Chicago House had applied for a loan from the funding that became available with the passage of the CARES Act, and was turned down. That funding mechanism was criticized once it became apparent that national chains such as Shake Shack, Ruth's Chris Steak House and Potbelly were granted loans while small businesses and organizations were left in the lurch.

Herman added that federal funding for various initiatives related to COVID-19 "can't come without layers of complications."

Conversation turned to the banks who administered the CARES Act loans, many of whom refused to consider serving clients with whom they had no existing relationships—those same banks nevertheless service state funds from taxpayer money. Mendoza pledged that she and Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs would discuss with those bankers how the loan decisions were made following the CARES Act.

Mendoza also said she was confident that her office at least could bounce back from the current and forthcoming difficulties caused by the pandemic, given that it was used to working under crisis conditions when Illinois was in the midst of a two-year-long budget impasse.

"We've been there, we've done that, we'll do it again," she added.

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