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Coronavirus fund led by former Obama official raises over $30 million

Max Zahn
Reporter

The coronavirus outbreak has wrought illness and economic pain but also prompted a surge of philanthropy. Among the relief efforts is a fund in Illinois led by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker — who served under Barack Obama — that has raised over $30 million and supported nearly 50 nonprofit organizations in the state, Pritzker told Yahoo Finance.

“The pain is very deep and very harsh,” Pritzker tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a newly released interview, taped on Friday. “We have millions of people across this nation and certainly people in Illinois that are really feeling the significant pain due to this virus.”

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” adds Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. “The ability for us to be able to bring together philanthropic resources to do our part to help — it's really been a great honor to be able to do it.”

More than 750,000 Illinois residents have filed for unemployment insurance since the coronavirus outbreak shuttered major portions of the economy last month. As of Tuesday afternoon, about 45,800 cases coronavirus had been confirmed in Illinois, and 1,893 had died of the disease, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, the brother of Penny Pritzker, issued a stay-at-home order on March 20. On Monday, a Southern Illinois judge blocked an extension of the stay-at-home order, though Gov. Pritzker intends to appeal the ruling, CBS reported.

Gov. Pritzker asked Penny Pritzker to launch and head the statewide coronavirus relief effort, she said. As of Friday, the organization had dispersed $10.5 million to 48 nonprofit organizations across the state, she added.

“Our pain in Illinois is like that across the country,” Pritzker says. “It’s been extraordinary.”

Penny Pritzker, former U.S. Commerce Secretary under the Obama administration, appears on "Influencers with Andy Serwer."

Pritzker spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Yahoo Finance Presents.”

After serving as national finance chair for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, she took a seat on Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and his Economic Recovery Advisory Board. From 2013 to 2017, she held the position of Secretary of Commerce. Currently, she sits on the Microsoft (MSFT) board and is chairman of PSP Partners, a private investment firm.

In January, Pritzker endorsed the presidential bid of former Vice President Joe Biden.

US President Barack Obama speaks following a meeting with his economic team in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. From center is Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

While she highlighted the philanthropic efforts in Illinois, Pritzker acknowledged that states like Illinois need help from Washington D.C.

“No state has enough excess budget to be able to solve for this forced shutdown that we have to do in order to protect our population,” she says. “So the federal government has a massive role to play.”

“I applaud the action of the Fed and of Congress, because they recognized — and they've learned from history — you need to work fast,” she adds. “You need to go deep in order to try to smooth the situation for the American people.”

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