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More Illinois Healthcare Pros Needed, More Money Coming For Food Assistance, Homeless Shelters

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Illinois leaders are calling for more retired healthcare workers to return to the profession to help the state combat the new coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, millions more dollars are being pumped into social service programs designed to help those in need.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike told reporters at a daily briefing Friday that about a thousand professionals have already offered to help at hospitals afterGov. J.B. Pritzker made the first appeal last week. But Ezike said even more personnel will be needed as new COVID-19 cases continue to mount.

“While we are telling the public to shelter in place, to stay at home, we are asking [healthcare professionals] to go where the patients are, to go where the illness is to save their lives,” Ezike said.

Officials are encouraging any first responder or medical professional to register for an emergency alert systemthat can dispatch them electronically to where they’re needed.

As of Friday state public health officials confirmed 488 more people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total confirmed cases to more than 3,000 statewide. Thirty-four people have died.

Pritzker again had harsh words for President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic. The president told a Fox News talk show he did not think New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request for 30,000 ventilators was reasonable, saying “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”

“To say that these [Trump’s] comments are counterproductive is an understatement, and frankly at worst, the comments are deadly,” Pritzker said.

The governor and others repeated calls for Trump to compel medical equipment manufacturers to ramp up production of ventilators by using the Defense Production Act. Shortly after, Trump signed an executive order invoking the law and compelling General Motors to make more equipment for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Meanwhile, more money is on the way for Illinoisans who need help buying groceries or finding a place to live.

Almost two million residents use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to buy food. It’s a federal program run by the USDA, but Pritzker said his office asked that agency to double the amount of money Illinois’ SNAP recipients get.

“That’s another $80 million worth of food on the table for our residents that also stimulates our local economies,” he explained. “That’s real impact in our communities.”

Anyone who makes less than $2,000 a month will now be able to get $194 dollars to help buy groceries, while a low-income family of four can get more than $600. Illinois has also managed to extend benefits that were scheduled to lapse in the next several months by another half year.

Separately, Pritzker says the state will provide additional money to community groups and shelters helping people who are homeless. Some of it is dedicated to ensuring shelters can put social distancing measures in place.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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