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CHICAGO — The State of Illinois has spent more than a half billion dollars on COVID-19-related costs.

The federal government will reimburse the state through funds appropriated by the CARES Act, but it is still your tax dollars. You may be surprised about how some of it is spent, with sliced bread and empty hotel rooms among the notable expenses. 

We previously reported how the state spent $1.7 million for two charter flights with masks and gloves from China and $460,000 for 800 iPhones.

Other expenditures include:

  • More than $104 million to reimburse the Chicago Board of Education and other school districts and non-profits that provided meals during the pandemic.
  • More than $11 million to staff the alternate care facility at McCormick Place, where only 38 patients were transferred.
  • $395,000 to GMMB Inc., a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm that did paid campaign work for Governor Pritzker. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency hired the firm to buy ad time for COVID-19 public service announcements, one of which featured the actress Jane Lynch. 
  • $284,310 for “sliced bread.” A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections says the state’s prisons have had to buy loaves from an outside vendor because an in-house bakery operation was suspended due to the virus. 

In all, the state has spent a total of more than $531 million.

Governor Pritzker’s emergency powers allow him to spend taxpayer money without the usual levels of oversight, but some state Republican leaders say there needs to be more checks and balances.

“We’ve had virtually no oversight,” said Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). “We’ve been asking the governor for months to share the data behind his ‘data driven decisions’ they’ve been making.”

And then there’s alternate housing. The state paid $3.5 million to rent out six Illinois hotels for first responders, healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients who required isolation. 

While it may have been well-intended, the service may have not have been needed downstate. In Springfield, more than 400 rooms were rented out at two hotels at a total cost to taxpayers of $1.3 million. But not a single person ever stayed at either property.

With checks flying so fast, how do taxpayers know they’re not getting hosed?

Comptroller Susana Mendoza says many vendors jacked up their prices. Some even tried to scam not just Illinois, but states throughout the nation. 

“Every day people are attempting to scam not just our state but every state purchasing PPE… so it’s important to have a relationship with the FBI and state police which are part of our vetting process,” Mendoza says.