Our region now has a partner in mitigation measures as the area east of St. Louis has matched our restrictions one week after the announcement for us here in Region 7 and after their two weeks attempt to reduce positivity below 6.5%. Also, some news of movements out in Washington DC that we can share.
Region 4 Matches
Additional coronavirus mitigation measures will be put in place in the Illinois region outside St. Louis, health officials announced Tuesday, as the COVID-19 test positivity rate there remains above state limits.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Metro East region will be subject to additional restrictions starting Wednesday as the 7-day COVID-19 test positivity rate there remains above the state’s 8 percent limit two weeks after new restrictions were put in place.
Since the new restrictions were added in the Metro East region on August 18, the rate has yet to drop below the limit, and the rate was 9.6 percent as of August 29. Similar to when restrictions were put in place in the region two weeks ago, health officials said the region could return to Phase 4 of reopening if the average positivity rate over the next 14 days drops below 6.5 percent.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday told Congress that Trump backs more COVID-19 relief for struggling workers and businesses. With more urgency, he said he is ready to restart negotiations with Nancy Pelosi after weeks of stalemate.
Mnuchin said Trump and fellow Republicans support provisions to approve funding for schools, COVID-19 testing, vaccine development and deployment, more loans to small businesses, continued enhanced unemployment benefits, child care, nutrition, agriculture, help for the Postal Service, and liability protection for universities, schools and businesses. The list is designed to complement some of the Democrats’ priorities, although the specifics are far apart.
So, should we start to think about the reality of a government shutdown? There are, at most, 11 days in session for the two sides to pass government funding and solve the stimulus riddle that’s had the four main negotiators tied up for months. That is not much time.
Could the lack of time and a deadline force the two parties together? Maybe, but serious differences remain. For example, Democrats want $900 billion in state and local aid, and Republicans want around $150 billion to $200 billion. They also are apart on school aid: Democrats want something on the order of $400 billion, and Republicans are at $105 billion.
The next week upon arrival will likely be about positioning and we should start to see actual movement and get a real sense of where things stand the week of Sept. 14. It will likely be bumpy and unclear up to the last minutes.
Payroll Tax Directives
Early in August, President Trump walked away from the legislative discussions with Democrats and said his executive pen could implement some of his favored initiatives to help American workers, including a temporary cut in the payroll tax, which is by law paid jointly by employees and employers.
Trump’s payroll tax deferral period begins this month, but few businesses are expected to participate in a plan that would boomerang against workers early next year when the relief must be repaid and the government’s largesse in effect reverts to a loan.
Under guidance issued by the IRS last week, employers have the option to stop withholding Social Security payroll taxes from paychecks from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 for employees who earn less than $4,000 on a biweekly basis. The money would then be collected by having businesses withhold catch-up taxes from workers’ paychecks in the first four months of 2021. The administration says the hole in the Social Security Trust Fund will be filled with general revenues, and it has dismissed criticism that unemployed Americans cannot benefit because they have no paycheck.
The Trump administration issued an order Tuesday banning landlords from evicting tenants from properties they can no longer afford to rent due to income lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
The order, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), would make it illegal to evict any individual who expects to make less than $99,000 or a joint-filing couple that expects to make less than $198,000 in 2020. The tenants would still be required to pay rent owed per the terms of the lease, but will be allowed to stay in their unit through the end of the year.
In order to qualify for the eviction protection, a tenant must declare that their 2020 income will fall below the threshold set out in the order; they’ve sought all potential sources of federal housing aid; and that they cannot afford to pay the rent due to a pandemic-related job loss or expense despite their best efforts to do so.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will also extend an eviction ban from properties with mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, and a previous ban on foreclosures and evictions from homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has also been extended through the end of 2020
LISC Small Business Relief Grants
LISC Small Business Relief Grants are open and are intended for small businesses facing immediate financial pressure because of Covid-19 with awards of $5,000 to $20,000.
The Round 6 application period is now open. Click here to apply. Your application must be completed by Monday, September 7th, 11:59 p.m. ET.
Before completing the application, review the Grant Information Overview and FAQ. Please keep the following in mind:
- For business owners with multiple businesses, please answer this survey based on your largest business owned.
- Each awardee is limited to one grant.
- Grants will be made to qualified businesses and based on accurate and complete submission and verification of required documentation.
- This round of applications must be submitted by Monday, September 7th, 11:59 p.m. ET.
Answers to COVID Questions Moving Forward
This is the topic for our next Virtual Conference TOMORROW morning at 11 AM. Please join the Joliet Chamber and Attorney Scott Cruz to discuss issues facing employers today and moving forward during the COVID pandemic. We will cover just about everything that you have questions on and if not, Scott will happily answer what he doesn’t cover.
Topics to be covered include but not limited to:
- Personal travel policies and when can you prohibit personal travel.
- Paid leave under FFCRA when parents do not feel comfortable sending their child to school for in-person learning, or the school is offering in-person and remote learning.
- Paid leave under FFCRA when parents claim to not have childcare options, for personal reasons, their child has been wait-listed at a daycare, etc.
- Should employers take employees’ temperatures or require they sign a daily COVID questionnaire each day before they come to work?
- Should employers require employees/visitors to sign a COVID release, and how valid are these releases?
- Accommodating employees who claim they cannot wear a mask based on a pre-existing medical condition. Are there FMLA considerations?
- Reclassifying exempt employees to non-exempt if there is not enough work to justify paying a full week’s salary
- Reducing exempt employee’s salary for similar reasons of lack of work.
- Are your outside sales employees still “outside sales employees” if no one is taking in-person meetings?
- Do employers have a duty to compensate non-exempt employees for time spent conducting temperature checks?
- What’s the National Labor Relations been up to? Let’s find out.
- CDC’s new Return to Work Guidance following a positive COVID test.
- Can we still require employees to provide a negative COVID test following quarantine? CDC says you shouldn’t, but what is the best practice?
Finally, here are three things that you can do right now to set boundaries while working from home. These simple tips can help make the difference between productivity and burnout. No matter what happens with the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: Working from home is going to be with us for a while. In some cases, companies have decided their employees can work from home forever. Others have given their employees the flexibility to work home for the next year, or more. If you love the flexibility of working remotely, that’s great news.
For a lot of people, however, working from home has been a challenge. Part of that means setting boundaries between work and everything else that happens at home. If you won’t do that, no one else will. If you don’t create boundaries and systems that help you stay focused on what matters most, you not only won’t be productive, you’ll end up burned out–not just in your work, but in your life. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to create boundaries that will help you be productive, and help you thrive during this challenging time.
- Shut the Door
Easily the most difficult thing about working from home is that you don’t have the same physical separation between life and work. When you go to an office, you know you’re there to work. When you work from home, it all runs together, unless you create a dedicated space to work and go there when it’s time to get things done.
Most happen to think that a space with a door you can close is best. Why? Because you can close the door, and you should. Not because you don’t love the people you live with, but because if they can walk in and talk to you, or give you a hug, or ask you to come and play, they will. On the other hand, when they see that the door is closed, that’s a cue that you’re working and need some distraction-free time.
By the way, shutting out distractions also applies to the virtual world as well. It’s OK to turn off notifications for Slack and Twitter and Messages.
- Chunk Your Time
It may sound strange, but this is so important, and it’s helped to be far more productive than would be otherwise. The reality is that when you work from home, it can be hard to keep a regular 9-to-5 schedule, especially with homeschooling and other challenges. That’s OK–the more important thing is to have a plan for how you’ll accomplish your task list.
Block your time into chunks throughout the day. You can have a morning chunk for writing before anyone gets up. Then, respond to emails and messages. In the afternoon, you might be doing research or have a block of time for meetings, each scheduled together so they don’t interrupt other things.
This also makes it easy to prioritize. If someone wants to have a meeting, you simply offer them a time during your next “chunk.” If a task comes up, it either needs to fit into the appropriate block of time or it will have to wait.
- Plan When to Quit
Just as important as being intentional about how you use your time is to be intentional about when to quit. And when we say quit, it means stop working. All of it. No more emails or Slack messages or “I just need to send this one thing.” Just stop.
There will always be plenty of work to do, but if you don’t decide when to stop, you never will. You’ll keep working, and to be honest, even if you love what you do that’s not a good thing. You need balance in your life with time to do other things. That starts with deciding to quit.
Let’s face it, quitting doesn’t just happen. And if you wait until you’re in the middle of a big project to try and figure out where to stop, that’s not a plan. And most of the time, you won’t. You’ll find a reason to just keep working.
Instead, when you plan out your day, decide when you’ll quit. When you get to that point, stop, even if you have more to do than when you started. Quit, and don’t think about any of it. It’ll all be there in the morning when you can make a new plan to get it all done. Just make sure that one also includes a plan to quit.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry