The arrival of financial help after a year of pandemic hardships will make a difference for the residents of Danville, Vermilion County and east-central Illinois.

The American Rescue Plan Act — a $1.9-trillion COVID-19 relief measure approved by Congress and signed by President Biden this month — includes $1,400 in direct payments to Americans and an extension of $300 weekly emergency unemployment benefits through September. It also includes funds for small business, including $29 billion for the hard-hit U.S. restaurant industry.

The pandemic’s effect on the economy continues to persist in Midwest. Most recent employment reports reflect the impact here.

Vermilion County’s unemployment rate at the end of 2020 was 6.4%, a respectable number compared to the spike the rate experienced at the height of the economic lockdown last spring. January showed an increase, however, to 8% in the Danville metro area, so nothing is coming easy as the area continues to struggle its way out of the COVID-19 recession.

Illinois showed a slight drop in its overall unemployment rate in January 2021 to 7.7% compared to 8% in December of 2020. That’s good news, but still a long way from the 3.5% of year ago before the pandemic hit.

It’s important to remember that these percentages include real people — family members and neighbors.

And it also should be noted that unemployment figures do not include people who have dropped out of the labor force. True jobless rates for states, cities and counties are likely higher.

Danville got good news this week when Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. announced the city would receive $23 million as part of a direct allocation in the national relief package. As we reported on Thursday, this funding can be used to make up revenue losses as a result of the COVID-19 economic recession. The impact will be significant and can boost the city’s improvement efforts in a number of areas and will help bolster tax revenues lost with COVID declines such as in the hotel/motel tax.

The Danville region, despite difficulties in the past year, has reason for optimism. Springtime traditionally brings construction and outdoors industry jobs. Major building projects, such as the at the Carle medical campus, are ongoing. The increasing pace of vaccinations, coupled with a continuation of public health protocols, should suppress the spread of COVID-19 as the year goes on. Meanwhile, funds for families, workers and businesses from the federal Rescue Plan Act will help carry them through.

It’s been a hard year. But there are better days ahead.

A version of this editorial first appeared in the Terre Haute, Indiana, Tribune-Star on Friday. It has been adapted for use in the Commercial-News.

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