Daily Herald Op-Ed

County’s new ‘rainy day’ funding can help our most-vulnerable face disasters

By Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison

Cook County is better prepared today than ever before to face potential disasters head on. Last November, The Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2024 that includes my proposal for the creation of a $100 million Disaster Response and Recovery Fund. In addition to no new taxes or outstanding deficits, this budget reflects Cook County’s strong fiscal health and also sets us up to be better prepared for the future.

This was a monumental step toward preparing the county for future challenges. Emergency Management professionals consider it standard practice to set aside funds to be used in the event of a Disaster Declaration. In fact, these “rainy day” funds have become commonplace across many of the local governments throughout the United States.

Looking back at the COVID-19 pandemic, we are well aware of the huge financial strain it put on the economy, local governments and our families. One of the main resources that enabled our county to provide much-needed financial assistance to renters, homeowners and businesses was the influx of federal dollars through the CARES and American Rescue Plan Acts. The pandemic taught us many valuable lessons about public health, safety and disaster response, but what was also evident was the need for readily available funds.

These disaster relief funds not only ensure a certain level of preparedness by the county, but also allow for a more rapid response that the state and federal government cannot always provide. Take the recent flooding we saw this fall. Despite the scope of the damage to people’s homes across the west and southwest suburbs, it took over a month for Cook County to receive any financial support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Similarly, the COVID 19 pandemic serves as an example of how federal aid may be delayed for disasters at a national scale, given that it took more than six months for CARES Act funds to be issued. Because state and federal agencies often take too much time to respond to local emergencies, I am glad that Cook County has taken action so that funds are immediately available when families are in their time of greatest need.

We have seen that it is often the most vulnerable and under-resourced in our communities who experience the worst impact of climate disasters. It is essential that we reserve some of our resources to mitigate the overwhelming impact these disasters can have on our most vulnerable. This fund will allow for equity-directed spending, supporting and uplifting residents who face the greatest need. This is a big step in not only fulfilling the needs of our communities, but also preparing for the challenges of a future wrought by Climate Change.

The issue of global warming is top of mind for emergency management professionals disaster preparation given the consistent increase in global temperatures. Climate scientists now estimate that global temperatures will rise by another 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. We have already begun to experience the impacts of this shift through the increase in severity of natural disasters seen across the globe. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, states averaged 3.1 weather-related disasters a year in the 1980s but now have averaged over 20 weather-related disasters in the last three years.

The cost of climate change is visible and verifiable, and it continues to increase. If we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst predictions of unmitigated climate change, then we must take bold action now towards creating a sustainable future. Establishing funds like this are a big step toward adopting a strategy of climate resiliency and adaptability, but it is just the first step in getting Cook County ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

As chair of the Emergency Management and Regional Security Committee, it is my commitment that we not only continue to better prepare for the future, but also take courageous legislative action to safeguard our residents against the worst impacts of climate change.