In the early hours of the morning, it was confirmed that Joe Biden is the official President-elect. We’ll now turn focus on what the possibilities will be in his first 100 days of office with a Democrat led House and Senate behind him.
Back in Illinois, we eagerly await January 15 to see if Governor Pritzker will allow regions to return to Tier 2 mitigations under the current Phase 4. Below, we take a closer look at some unemployment issues and the reissuance of the mask / gathering size order.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Congress on early Thursday morning formally affirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory. Shortly before 4 a.m., after lawmakers formally tabulated each state’s Electoral College votes, Vice President Pence announced before a joint session of Congress that Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had won 306 votes over Trump’s 232.
The vote to certify the president-elect’s victory in the Electoral College, the final step before his inauguration on Jan. 20, is largely a matter of course, but party leaders in both chambers decided that delaying it, even briefly, would deliver the message that the mob had won.
Instead, they raced to finalize their votes accepting the state tallies, hoping it would send a very different signal to the stunned country: The nation’s democratic institutions remain strong even under direct attack.
Both the House and Senate ultimately voted late Wednesday to reject the challenge to Arizona’s electoral votes on a bipartisan basis. That outcome was expected. Still, 121 Republicans in the House and six in the Senate voted to challenge Arizona’s results. Hours later, the House and Senate beat back a challenge to Pennsylvania’s result by similar margins. The Senate rejected it by 92-7, while the House voted 282-138.
An objection must be made by at least one lawmaker in each chamber in order to trigger two hours of debate and a vote. GOP senators and House members had planned to also launch objections to Georgia, but ultimately backed down after the day’s chaos.
Rule on Mask Requirements Reissued
This week, Governor Pritzker refiled an emergency rule to continue the state’s mask and social distancing rules. The emergency rule is currently in effect for a maximum of 150 days. The rule remains in effect until it is repealed, withdrawn, or overturned by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR).
A rule filed last year before the legislature met in May was repealed by the governor after critics said it criminalized business owners. In August, the governor filed a different emergency rule the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules allowed to stand.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said a similar emergency rule was filed Monday. “Any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or cloth face covering) shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when in a public place and unable to maintain at least a six-foot social distance,” the rule states. “This requirement applies whether in an indoor space, such as a store, or in an outdoor space.”
The new rule reads: “For retail businesses, reasonable efforts to comply with regard to customers shall be determined based on the totality of the circumstances and include, but are not limited to: posting signage requiring face coverings to be worn on the premises; providing face coverings to customers; giving verbal or written warnings to customers who are not wearing a face covering to inform them of the requirement to wear a face covering when on the premises; requesting verbally or in writing that customers leave the premises if not wearing a face covering; and making available reasonable accommodations for individuals who are not able to medically tolerate a face covering.”
The updated emergency rule also prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people. Public and nonpublic schools are to have fewer than 50 people in any one space. Enforcement of the rule will be up to “all local boards of health, health authorities and officers, police officers, sheriffs, and all other officers and employees of the State and any locality,” it says.
If a business refuses to comply with a written warning and a subsequent written order to disperse, “that business, service, facility or organization open to the public shall be subject to the penalties set forth in Section 8.1 of the Act.” That could lead to a Class A misdemeanor with penalties up to $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail.
But the rule says no individual will face such penalties. “No individual shall be held responsible for compliance with this rule on behalf of a business, service, facility or organization even if the individual is an owner, officer, principal or employee of that business, service, facility or organization,” the rule says.
If the rule is approved by JCAR when it meets on Jan. 12, it would remain in effect through June 3, or until JCAR blocks the rule or the governor repeals it. This action is worrisome as for the third time no committee or floor discussion of the other 165 lawmakers outside of the 12 members of JCAR have been able to discuss the mandate. As we move into the lame duck session and regular session of the general assembly, this would seem to be an issue to take up. The length of the mandate is also concerning considering the unknown status of the virus and mitigations in 150 days, although it can be repealed.
Recap of Illinois Vaccine Stage 1B Announcement
In a departure from federal recommendations, Illinois Governor Pritzker announced yesterday that everyone aged 65 and up will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine in the second phase of the state’s distribution plan.
The first priority group, Phase 1A, has been limited to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Pritzker said Wednesday about a third of health care workers have been vaccinated so far, and a federally backed program to administer vaccinations at nursing homes began Dec. 28.
The next phase, Phase 1B, will begin once the state has “substantially completed” the first one, which Pritzker said would take several weeks at least. Statewide, Illinois had administered about 207,000 vaccine doses as of Tuesday night, including the first group of second doses, Pritzker said. There are approximately 850,000 people in Phase 1B and 3.2 million in Phase 1B, according to estimates from state officials. The governor said Illinois is currently allocated about 120,000 doses of vaccine every week.
The Phase 1B guidelines the governor announced Tuesday depart from the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, which recommended doses be initially limited to those aged 75 and over. The expert panel’s guidance is non-binding, and individual states have been left to devise their own vaccination schemes with doses allocated.
The second phase also includes front-line essential workers. As defined by the federal government, that includes police public safety workers, teachers and school staff, manufacturing, agriculture and grocery store workers, public transmit, postal and correctional officers. It also includes incarcerated people, according to the governor’s office.
According to the CDC, only 35 percent of the vaccines distributed to Illinois have been administered — putting Illinois into a tie for 22nd among states when it comes to getting vaccines into people’s arms after being delivered. A spokesperson for Pritzker’s office said the data included doses set aside for long-term care facilities but did not include those allocated directly to Chicago.
Unemployment Issues Still Exist in Illinois
A central Illinois congressman’s exchange on Twitter with the state agency in charge of handing out aid to the unemployed highlighted public frustration with a system under scrutiny as everyday people struggle with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ back-and-forth last month with the Illinois Department of Employment Security began with a video of the Taylorville Republican in his kitchen describing his personal experience with a fraudulent unemployment claim being made in his name and his attempts to contact the state about it.
IDES acting director Kristin Richards said the agency, with a staffing level half of what it was a decade ago, has done a good job meeting the “staggering” challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic to put in place five new federal programs, handle a six-fold increase in unemployment claims and pay out 16 times more benefits than the $1.16 billion in unemployment compensation disbursed during the same nine-month period a year ago.
Dealing with processing delays
Before IDES set up its call-back system in July, the agency’s call center, staffed by 100 people, was receiving 1.8 million calls a week, and many people seeking help to set up benefits were spending hours calling continuously and never getting through, Richards said.
The call-back system, in which callers leave a message with IDES, along with identifying information and a phone number for a return call, has helped to ease delays and route inquiries to the most appropriate IDES representatives, she said. The new system passed its one-millionth return call in November, she said.
For responses on relatively easy-to-resolve issues, such as helping people receiving benefits in resetting online passwords or PIN numbers, or help with certifying a valid claim, IDES has been returning those calls within one or two weeks, Richards said.
Longer waits face people with more complex issues. “Quite frankly, that is not outside the normal course of business for the agency,” Richards said. “I just know that at this point in time, and during this crisis, that it is so much more deeply felt.
“Any delays that people have encountered in the program are directly attributable to volume and any complicating factors that are surrounding the claim,” she said. “The benefits that have been paid out throughout the course of the pandemic do indicate to us that the majority of the population that’s coming to us for help … they are receiving the benefits that they are eligible to receive.”
The agency, which is entirely federally funded, received a $42 million boost in that funding earlier this year to help with expansion of services, and Richards said the money has come in handy. Pritzker and the General Assembly have given their blessing to hire 226 more IDES employees this year, and those slots are being filled, Richards said.
IDES, which employs about 1,100 people statewide, has trained almost 1,200 contractual workers for its call center, and about 400 of those workers are active in the center on any given day, she said. In addition, 50 newly hired IDES employees are working in the call center, she said.
Richards didn’t have any estimates on the level of fraudulent claims filed in Illinois as a result of nationwide breaches resulting in identity theft, but there’s no indication the fraud is connected with any hacks into Illinois state government computer systems.
“What we continue to see is evidence of fraudsters — bad actors — using personally identifying information that they have found on the ‘dark web’ or through some other resources that materialized through a previous cyber-attack or large breach of information,” she said.
IDES has used technology that has “stopped a majority” of fraudulent claims from bilking the state out of unemployment compensation, she said. From March 1 through Dec. 1, IDES “shut down” almost 342,000 fraudulent claims, she said.
The agency has a place on its website, reachable at bit.ly/IDESFraud, where fraud can be reported. There’s also a phone number listed — (866) 999-5630 — for the Illinois attorney general’s identity theft hotline.
Illinois is Reinstating Federal Jobless Aid Programs
Illinois is working on restoring unemployment benefits to nearly 450,000 people whose benefits expired temporarily after President Donald Trump delayed signing a $900 billion coronavirus relief package.
Roughly 447,500 Illinoisans were at risk of losing jobless benefits entirely when multiple federal programs tied to the $2.2 trillion stimulus package from last spring expired Dec. 26, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
While it’s unclear when benefits will be restored in Illinois, state and federal labor officials say they expect people will be paid for the end of December, even though the bill extending federal pandemic unemployment programs was not signed until Sunday, the day after benefits expired.
The state is waiting on guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to reinstate and implement the federal programs, but would pay any missed benefits retroactively, spokeswoman Rebecca Cisco said. The U.S. Department of Labor said in a statement most programs will remain unchanged, but it will deliver guidance to help states implement new programs “in the near future.”
“As states are implementing these new provisions as quickly as possible, the Department does not anticipate that eligible claimants will miss a week of benefits due to the timing of the law’s enactment,” the statement said. Illinois is encouraging anyone with active claims to continue certifying their benefits as they normally would, Cisco said.
Extra $300 in weekly benefits
The state will pay out an enhanced federal jobless benefit of $300 per week for up to 11 weeks under the new relief package for anyone eligible for an underlying unemployment compensation benefit. The benefit runs for the weeks beginning after Dec. 26 and ending on or before March 14. The supplement is half the amount of the extra $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits most Americans received from the last stimulus package. Those payments expired in late July.
Extension of jobless aid programs
People who exhausted their 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits were eligible to receive up to 13 additional weeks of federal benefits under the pandemic relief package passed in the spring.
Congress has extended that program for 11 weeks and allowed states to continue paying benefits through April 5 for those who haven’t reached the maximum number of weeks. The program, known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, will close to new applicants March 14.
The legislation also continues funding the state’s extended benefits program, which provides up to 20 weeks of benefits during high times of unemployment for people who have exhausted all other programs. The program had been set to reduce to 13 weeks when other federal programs expired Dec. 26, but the legislation means people will be eligible for up to 20 weeks.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig and self-employed workers was also extended and now provides up to 50 weeks of benefits, up from 39 weeks. The program closes to new applicants March 14 and will pay benefits through April 5.
New program for mixed-income workers
As part of the latest legislation, Illinois will set up a new program allowing mixed-income earners, who are self-employed and also earn some regular wages, to apply to federal programs. Previously, those types of workers were only eligible to receive regular state benefits.
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Loans and IRS Tax Implications for Small Businesses
Join representatives from the SBA Illinois District and the IRS for a discussion and presentation of tax treatment for COVID-19 relief programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Paycheck Protection Program, employer tax deferment, and Small Business/Self-Employed incentives with SBA and IRS. This is a tax information webinar and should not be considered as tax advice.
Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m.
Register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sba-loans-and-irs-tax-implications-for-small-businesses-tickets-132859788203?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
U.S. Chamber Guide to New Pandemic Relief Package
How Do These Changes Impact My Existing PPP Loan?
I Exhausted My Initial PPP Loan, How Does This Help Me?
What If I Never Received a PPP Loan?
Which Changes to Other Programs That May Help My Small Business Have Been Changed?
- Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- EIDL Grants
- Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators
- SBA Loan Debt Forgiveness
Here is the link to the Monday 12/21 update that contained full information on the relief package:
SBDC at JJC Update
21 Topics in 21 Minutes for 2021 Growth
Date: Scheduled one-on-one session
In less than 30 minutes, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Joliet Junior College will help you prioritize key 2021 business plans whether it is for your people, your product, your marketing, your sales, your money, or the impact of this crisis. In this short, one-on-one exercise, we will help you determine up to three of the biggest opportunities for growth in the year ahead. We will offer no-cost tools to develop your strategy for success in those areas. Email us at SBDC@JJC.edu and we will send you a link for registration.
Starting Your Business in Illinois
Date: 1/14/21 Time: 9am
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.
Advanced Business Data Research (with Shorewood Library)
January 21st at 6pm
Already familiar with Reference Solutions (formerly Reference USA)? Learn how to utilize this data even more! In this session, learn higher level search techniques, how to use the additional functionality (like the mapping, summary, and chart options), and how to combine searches within modules to get a more in-depth level of data.
Register at: https://ilsbdc.ecenterdirect.com/events/33678
Government Certification Process (with Rita Haake at COD)
January 28th at 9am
Certifications: Interpreting the alphabet to pursue profits! Which small business certification is the best one for you?
• Federal: 8(a), EDWOSB, HUBZone, SDB, SDVOSB, WOSB, VOSB
• State: DBE, FBE, FMBE, MBE, PBE, VBE
• Local: DBE, MBE, WBE, VBE
You will learn the details of the application process, documentation requirements, certification options, and how to market and leverage certifications for the growth of your business.
Register at: https://ilsbdc.ecenterdirect.com/events/33909
Will County Residents Behind on Mortgage or Rent Can Access Funds
Funds are available to those at least one month behind on rent. utility assistance is also available for those who qualify. Renters having difficulty working with their landlords and facing eviction are encouraged to contact Prairie State Legal, another HUD CARES funded program, at (815) 727-5123.
Owners behind on their mortgages are encouraged to work with their mortgage companies on forbearance options. If those options are not available or exhausted, assistance is available for families behind on mortgage payments as well.
The local agencies helping are:
- Will County Center for Community Concerns, (815) 722-0722
- Spanish Community Center, (815) 727-3683
- Catholic Charities, (815) 774-4663
- Community Service Council, (815) 886-5000
Finally, below is some timely and helpful information for the childcare sector.
Personal Protective Equipment assistance
Personal Protective Equipment help is available for childcare programs (and other service providers) who receive Illinois Department of Human Services funding. These supplies of face masks, hand sanitizer and other materials are limited, but interested providers can pursue them — and learn more about these PPE opportunities — by completing an online survey at tinyurl.com/IL-PPEsurvey. The deadline is Jan. 20.
This is another short-term but important plank in the bridge of assistance that state leaders are extending to struggling providers of early care and education for young children, and their working parents, this winter. Other measures include reduced family co-payments and extended eligibility periods for families participating in the state Child Care Assistance Program, as well as CCAP payments to programs for all their eligible children (as opposed to only those in attendance each day, which has presented challenges during COVID).
Childcare & early childhood provider town-hall meeting: Vaccines, federal relief measures
Members of the childcare and early childhood workforce are invited to a Jan. 15 meeting to discuss and learn more about two important topics:
· COVID vaccine distribution for the early childhood field, and
· New funding included in last month’s federal-relief legislation to help support childcare providers during COVID-19.
When: Friday, January 15, 2021
· In English: 11:30 a.m.
(register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4474273865380816142)
· In Spanish: 1:15 p.m.
(register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7390246871963823118)
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry