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Twin-City governments, hotels summoned to help the poor during COVID-19 crisis

Bloomington City Council member Julie Emig during Wednesday night's Protect Our People virtual meeting.

BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) - Activists wanting to aid the most vulnerable McLean County residents are calling for local governments to take bold and dramatic action to provide the needy with direct financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Don Carlson is on the staff of Illinois People's Action, one of the organizers of the Wednesday night's third organizing meeting of the Protect Our People coalition.

According to Carlson, the pandemic is the emergency of our lifetimes. The group said Bloomington and Normal governments have tens of million dollars in reserves that can be used to help people who've lost their jobs at businesses that have closed in compliance with Gov. JB Pritzker's stay-at-home directive.

Activist Rachel Shively said, "If you lost your job, how are you going pay your bills?"

The coalition is also calling on three Twin-City hotels, built with the help of tax incentives, to offer their many vacant rooms to people who don't have secure housing during the crisis.

The Marriott and Hyatt Hotels in Uptown Normal and the Best Western Hotel on IAA Drive in Bloomington all received tax increment financing incentives.

Bloomington City Council member Julie Emig, one of the participants in Wednesday night's virtual meeting, stopped short of saying she would call for a special city council meeting to provide the funding.

Carlson asked Emig, "Are you willing to be a champion on this?"

"I'm willing to be as good a public servant as possible," Emig responded.

The coalition is also demanding the release of McLean County Jail inmates who don't have the money to post bail before their trials. The group said the jail is a terrible place to be during a pandemic because they can't practice social distancing to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

The sheriff, state's attorney, and chief judge are being lobbied to approve inmates' release.

Besides Illinois People's Action, the grass roots effort is being organized by the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, and Bloomington-Normal Democratic Socialists of America.

Another virtual meeting is scheduled for next week.

Howard Packowitz

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