Last night the Joliet City Council made a major decision to enter into an agreement to bring Lake Michigan water through the City of Chicago. If you would like to view the meeting and hear why the water source selection ended as it did, click here for the recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQuzKVTdjyM&feature=youtu.be
Today’s update reviews topics such as two more entries into the vaccine picture, tracking the growth or shrinking of covid in Illinois, a state jobs report, and don’t miss out on a tax credit. Additionally, there are two pieces on new stimulus proposals focusing on recurring payments and turning a tax credit into a monthly cash payment for kids.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Vaccine Report – Novavax and Johnson & Johnson News
Novavax Inc. said Thursday its Covid-19 vaccine was 89.3% effective at protecting people from the disease in an interim analysis from its late-stage study in the U.K., where a worrisome strain of the coronavirus has been circulating.
In the study, 62 people came down with Covid-19 with symptoms after receiving either the vaccine or placebo, Novavax said. Of these, six had received the vaccine and 56 had gotten the placebo. Among sick patients, about half were infected with the U.K.-circulating strain.
Yet the vaccine was less effective in a separate, middle-stage study in South Africa, where yet another variant has spread. In South Africa, the Novavax shot was about 49.4% effective against Covid-19 in the study. Preliminary results showed that more than 90% of the sick subjects for whom sequencing data were available were infected with the new variant circulating in South Africa. In light of the lower efficacy in South Africa, Novavax said it started work on a modified version of its vaccine that better targets the strain first identified there and plans to begin testing in the second quarter.
Overall, however, the positive performance points toward another vaccine soon joining the arsenal of available shots in some countries, as health authorities grapple with limited supplies while racing to inoculate residents.
In the U.K. study, Novavax said that based on testing performed on 56 of the 62 Covid-19 cases, the vaccine appeared to be 95.6% effective against the original Covid-19 strain and 85.6% against the U.K. strain.
Novavax, which has never brought a vaccine to market, released its study results via press release. The data hasn’t undergone the standard vetting by outside experts that precedes publication in a medical journal. The Gaithersburg, Md., company said it has started the process of requesting that U.K. health regulators clear use of the company’s vaccine in the country.
Novavax said it would provide the new data to U.S. regulators, which could lead to an authorization by April. But it is possible U.S. regulators won’t decide on the vaccine until they see the results from a third, ongoing late-stage study testing the shot in the U.S. and Mexico.
Johnson & Johnson
A COVID-19 single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson was 66 percent effective in preventing moderate or severe disease in a phase 3 clinical trial, a level of protection above the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) minimum but lower than the authorized Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
There is also a warning sign from the variant found in South Africa. The efficacy dropped from 72 percent in the United States to 57 percent in South Africa, where a new coronavirus variant is prevalent. That new variant has been more resistant to vaccines, including now this one, causing concern among experts. Still, a range of vaccines will likely provide protection against the variant.
The company plans to file for authorization from the FDA in “early February,” meaning the vaccine could soon add to the U.S. arsenal against the virus.
The company emphasized that its vaccine is 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and was 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization or death starting 28 days after vaccination. That is a crucial point, meaning that even if the vaccine is somewhat less effective in preventing people from getting sick at all, it still appears to protect well against people having to go to the hospital or dying.
The overall level of 66 percent is below the roughly 95 percent for Pfizer and Moderna. But it is well above the FDA minimum of 50 percent for authorization. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, as opposed to the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, meaning it will be easier to distribute.
The company said it is on track to meet its commitment of 100 million doses for the U.S. by the end of June, though officials declined to provide a timeline for how many doses would be available immediately upon authorization.
New Web Site Looks at Whether the COVID-19 Pandemic is Growing or Shrinking in Illinois
A group of Illinois COVID-19 researchers has launched a webpage to try to help residents see and make sense of the latest pandemic trends, including one of the easiest metrics to understand: the reproduction rate. Though it’s based on complicated math, the reproduction rate offers a simple gauge of the pandemic’s trajectory. A number above 1 means the epidemic is growing. Below 1 means it’s shrinking.
One way to think of it is that the figure represents the average number of new people who are infected by one sick person before that sick person recovers or dies.
So if 100 sick people collectively infect exactly 100 new people, the pandemic isn’t growing or shrinking. But if those 100 sick people infect 110, the pandemic is growing, with a reproduction rate of 1.1. If those 100 infect just 90, the rate is 0.9 and the pandemic is shrinking. If the rate stays below 1 for good, the pandemic will die out.
Currently, three different estimates from the modelers all show that, at last count, the pandemic was shrinking statewide, with the reproduction rate around 0.88 to 0.95. But not all regions were faring as well as others, with some hovering near a rate of 1, according to at least one team’s projection.
The site, illinoiscovid.org, is being built and maintained by researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, two of the four groups that are advising Gov. J.B. Pritzker on COVID-19 trends. The other group members — the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Argonne National Laboratory — contributed their models’ outputs, too.
New Jobless Claims in Illinois Remain Above 100,000
For the second straight week, Illinois topped 100,000, and the week-to-week data were stunningly similar. The Labor Department reported that 109,000 Illinois workers filed for benefits last week, 14,000 more than the revised figure of 95,000 the week before, but just last week the department reported the same 109,000 new filings above 95,000 the week before, with the actual numbers only slightly different.
The state has been hit hard as part of a nationwide scourge of fraudulent claims. According to the Labor Department, Illinois registered the most new claims in the nation last week, as California, which has also been battling fraud, saw its new filings more than cut in half to 53,000 from 117,000 the week before.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security released new figures Thursday setting the state unemployment rate at 7.5 percent, after IDES initially said 7.6 percent last week. The Chicago region and Decatur were the only two of the state’s 14 metropolitan areas above the state average, at 8.7 and 8.2 percent, respectively. In Chicago, jobs were down 285,000 year to year in December, down an additional 17,000 from November, while in Decatur jobs were down 3,600 year to year and level month to month. Overall, Illinois employment was set at 5.7 million, down 419,000 from a year ago.
According to the Labor Department, Illinois claims for expanded federal benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program rose slightly to 32,000 from 29,000 the week before. Congress only just extended those benefits with its latest COVID-19 relief package before the end of the year.
Ill Dept. of Revenue Reminds Taxpayers to Take Advantage of Earned Income Tax Credit
Taxpayers may be in line for a larger refund this year because of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and its Illinois counterpart, the Illinois Earned Income Credit (EIC). But to get it, individuals must file a tax return and claim it.
Friday, January 29, 2021, marks the 15th anniversary of EITC Awareness Day, a nationwide effort to increase awareness about federal EITC and state EIC. The EITC and EIC are powerful tools that reward low- and moderate-income taxpayers for their hard work, yet thousands of eligible taxpayers fail to claim this refundable credit on their taxes.
“I encourage taxpayers to check their eligibility for the state EIC and federal EITC,” said David Harris, Illinois Department of Revenue Director. “The earned income credit puts thousands of dollars in the pockets of hard-working families every year. Even if an individual does not owe any tax, they may be eligible. That’s money that can be used for groceries, rent, utilities and other bills.”
Anyone eligible for the federal EITC automatically qualifies for the Illinois EIC, which is a refundable tax credit worth up to 18 percent of a taxpayer’s federal claim. Despite that, in 2020, more than 13,000 Illinoisans claimed a federal EITC credit without also claiming the state EIC, leaving over $7 million dollars unclaimed. Recently, the Pritzker Administration and IDOR commenced a new outreach initiative last October to increase Earned Income Credit (EIC) participation by targeting taxpayers who qualified but failed to claim the credit. This outreach resulted in over 10,000 additional refunds issued totaling more than $5.5 million.
To be eligible for EIC/EITC, taxpayers must meet certain income and residency qualifications and file a tax return, even if they do not owe any tax or are not required to file. The Internal Revenue Service recommends that all workers who earned around $56,844 or less learn about EITC eligibility and use the EITC Assistant to find out if they qualify. Taxpayers must be eligible for federal EITC to receive the state EIC. EITC can mean up to a $6,660 refund when a taxpayer files a return with qualifying children. Workers without a qualifying child could be eligible for a smaller credit up to $538. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the average amount credited for 2020 was $2,461.
Progressives push Biden for recurring stimulus checks
More than 50 House progressives are pushing President Joe Biden to prioritize recurring direct checks instead of one-time payments in the next rescue package, upping the demands on Democratic leaders in their race to draft a bill.
The group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), sent a letter to the Biden administration on Thursday calling for regularly delivered checks through the end of the pandemic, rather than a single $1,400 payment that is likely to fall short of expenses like rent or mortgage payments.
The letter obtained by POLITICO — which was also signed by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — does not call for a specific dollar amount. But Omar and other progressives have been vocal in their support for monthly $2,000 checks. “One more check is not enough,” progressives wrote in their letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
White House and congressional officials are moving quickly to draft the next stimulus package, with Democrats working on legislation that would meet the broad outlines of Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal and could pass by mid-March. Biden’s proposal includes long-time priorities of the left, like a $15 minimum wage and a paid leave program — though it remains unclear if either can make it into the package given initial GOP resistance and certain procedural constraints if Democrats deploy budget reconciliation to evade a Senate filibuster.
Now progressives say Biden must also go further on stimulus checks, which remain overwhelmingly popular with the public despite resistance from the GOP’s deficit hawks as well as some Democrats. While the lawmakers do not threaten to withhold their votes, the progressives’ push to prioritize recurring payments could drum up pressure on top Democrats in a narrowly divided House and Senate.
“Recurring direct payments until the economy recovers will help ensure that people can meet their basic needs, provide racially equitable solutions, and shorten the length of the recession,” the letter reads.
The group also told Biden and Harris that the checks should go to “all immigrant workers, refugees, and their families,” which would include people who file federal taxes but are not legally authorized to work in the U.S.— a group that is not currently eligible for payments.
The letter also calls for more outreach by state and local officials “to ensure families are aware of payments” and to offer more help to people who may not have access to bank accounts. The letter is endorsed by more than two dozen progressive groups, including Demand Progress, Indivisible and the Universal Income Project.
Cash Advance for Children
In the past year, the government has sent stimulus checks to half the country — twice. Now, Democrats want to do something even more ambitious: Send cash each month to tens of millions of low-income people with children.
As part of their latest coronavirus stimulus plan, Democrats are drafting a proposal to expand and transform a long-standing tax credit for children — normally taken once a year at tax time — into a monthly payment, tax reporter Brian Faler writes. They aim to send $250 each month per child — $300 for kids under the age of six — in what would be the country’s first-ever child allowance.
It’s designed to substantially reduce the number of children living in poverty by getting money into their parents’ pockets quickly and steadily. Democrats say if the government can send stimulus checks to 150 million people, then it can do this too.
“Families wait all year for tax filing season because their earned income and child tax credits cover critical needs like overdue bills or medical care,” Ron Wyden, the Senate’s top Democratic tax writer said in a statement. “Making at least the child tax credit payable in advance would help lessen the constant financial pressure on these families.”
But the proposal is still in its early stages, and it’s likely to be much more difficult to implement than cutting stimulus checks. Democrats still need to confer with the Treasury Department about how it could work, and it’s unclear how quickly the department might be able to set up such a program.
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
SBDC at JJC Update
Using Facebook to Grow Your Business (with Mary Wu)
February 3rd and 2pm
Facebook is a powerful tool to connect with and communicate with your current clients and your prospective clients. In this workshop, we’ll cover some of the top tips you need to have a solid Facebook business presence. Mary Wu is a Social Media Consultant and Educator, she understands current trends in social media, and will help you determine the best ways to make use of your “social media real estate”
Quick Books (with Annette Szobar)
February 10th 2pm
Learn why keeping track of your finances is important, what information can you get from QuickBooks, and which version should you get! Join independent entrepreneur and small business expert Annette Szobar who will help you solve your QuickBooks problems.
SEO (with Jason McCoy)
February 17 at 2pm
More consumers are doing research and shopping online than ever before due to circumstance, convenience, and cost. Businesses that wish to remain relevant and profitable need to adapt to the shift in consumer behavior. Creating optimized content for your website that will deliver interested consumers is critical now more than ever. Crafting a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan is imperative and second only to building a website in ‘getting your business online’.
Starting Your Business in Illinois
February 23rd at 11am
Thinking about starting a business in Illinois? This informative workshop helps entrepreneurs understand many of the steps and requirements. In this no-cost overview of Starting Your Business in Illinois, we will touch on many aspects of your business plan, including legal, accounting, banking, marketing, and sales.
Starting Your Business in Illinois Webinar (ecenterdirect.com)
Finally, we would like to ask that you take a few minutes to fill out a new survey that we’ve put together. This member survey is intended to gather feedback on the continuing issues, opportunities, and perceptions based around covid, the economy, and your business.
As we move forward during the pandemic and shifting political landscapes, please share your feedback so that we can best serve our membership.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry