Health and Human Services lays out 2021 budget

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. The city has named three finalists for its next city manager.

Andrew Myers, Reporter

Evanston’s Health and Human Services Department will be looking for funding to cover both coronavirus and regular day-to-day expenses in the city’s 2021 budget, city officials said in the third and final installment of the city’s community budget conversations on Monday.

In 2021, the department plans to maintain the necessary health protocols and, if a vaccine becomes available by next year, it hopes to prioritize creating a vaccination strategy.

This year, the department received just over $6 million from the city’s $320 million budget. A significant portion of the department’s funding for the year has been dedicated to Evanston’s COVID-19 response, Kate Lewis-Lakin, Evanston’s budget coordinator, said, and much of its 2021 budget will also be focused on continued COVID-19 protocols.

Ike Ogbo, the city’s Health and Human Services director, said his department’s response has been focused on contract tracing and providing service to at-risk communities.

“We have provided as much support as we can to vulnerable populations and we have made onsite visits to long-term care facilities,” Ogbo said.

Specifically, Ogbo said the city came to the aid of long-term care facilities by providing thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment.

These services were covered in the public health division of the general fund expenses in the overall 2020 budget, Lewis-Lakin said. In addition to COVID-19 related expenses, the department also helps maintain the wellness of the city’s residents through programs focused on issues like senior assistance, community health and victim services.

However, some residents expressed concerns that the $6 million appropriated to the department in 2020 would not be sufficient to meet the needs of the city amid a pandemic on top of the services it provides to Evanston residents on a yearly basis.

“$6 million is woefully inadequate for the HHS and for how important the sector is to the city,” said Diane Goldring, an Evanston resident who recently announced she is running for to represent the 4th Ward on City Council.

Several residents at the meeting asked if more money would be allocated toward testing. Unlike other areas in Illinois, there is no major community testing center where Evanston residents can go within a relatively short distance to get tested, Diane Goldring said.

Instead, as Igbo highlighted, the city has been relying on community agencies, such as hospitals, to provide testing to residents.

“HHS has endeavored to ensure that we will expand testing in Evanston and we have hosted 5 testing events,” Ogbo said. “Right now we rely solely on hospitals and other providers to do our testing.”

The department has received grants to cover COVID-19 expenses and to compensate for the $12 million budget shortfall the city is currently experiencing. Igbo said Evanston has received $817,000 to pay for a team of contract tracers.

The city will release its proposed 2021 budget on Oct. 9, and will meet throughout October and November before finalizing the budget in November.

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