Today’s big news hints at what will be delivered next Wednesday during the combined Illinois Budget address & State of the State address. There is so much news circulating on vaccines it is hard not to get it out right away, so today’s update is vaccine heavy. As said before, this very topic will likely dominate though for the foreseeable future until distribution runs smoother and we come close to herd immunity.
Make sure you get to the bottom for our announcement covering our next program, the Joliet State of the City Address with Mayor O’Dekirk.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Illinois Budget Announcement – No Income Tax Raise, but …
Governor Pritzker is preparing to present a budget plan to lawmakers next week that doesn’t increase overall state spending or raise the flat-rate income tax from the current 4.95%. In a budget overview short of details, Pritzker’s office said he will propose closing $900 million in unspecified “corporate tax loopholes” and ask legislators to redirect some dedicated revenue streams, such as the cigarette tax, to the state’s general fund.
The governor’s office is projecting a $3 billion deficit for the budget year that begins July 1, down from a previous projection of $5.5 billion, thanks in part to a stronger-than-expected economy. The deficit projection was also lowered because the state has paid off $700 million of the $3.2 billion it borrowed from a special Federal Reserve program ahead of schedule, according to the governor’s office. The state has until December 2023 to pay off the full amount.
While saying Pritzker’s proposal would close out the $3 billion budget hole, the administration didn’t provide a complete picture of how it plans to balance the spending plan he will present to the General Assembly next Wednesday. While overall spending would be flat, the proposal would “strengthen” some agencies, including those on the front lines of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the departments of Public Health and Employment Security, Pritzker’s office said.
For the second year in a row, however, Pritzker is proposing a budget that would fall short of the spending requirements in the landmark education funding overhaul his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, signed into law in 2017. It was one of the few major pieces of bipartisan legislation that became law during Rauner’s single term.
The law calls for the state to increase funding for elementary and secondary education by $350 million each year. Last year, Pritzker proposed making a portion of that funding increase contingent on voter approval of the graduated income tax. The $43 billion spending plan Pritzker ultimately signed into law for the budget year that ends June 30 held state funding for schools flat. An influx of federal funding for schools would help make up the difference next year, and Pritzker remains “committed to ensuring that education is fully funded in future years,” his office said.
Pritzker’s proposal to exempt state income taxes from a federal tax law change that would result in a possible loss of $500 million in corporate tax revenue also fell short when lawmakers rejected it in the waning days of the previous General Assembly in January. We fully anticipate however this item, along with some other potential tax items will come up during session.
The governor has taken other long-discussed options, including a tax on retirement income, off the table, leaving few options for providing long-term stability. David Merriman, an expert on state finances at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the plan Pritzker’s office has outlined would do nothing to address the major structural problem facing the state: a lack of adequate revenue to meet its financial obligations and support the programs and services taxpayers expect. Even still, “being able to pull this all off seems like a real stretch, and it doesn’t look like it’s enough money to close the deficit, so I’d say they have a long way to go,” Merriman said.
Republican state Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, a lead budget negotiator for the House GOP, said he appreciates the governor looking for ways to balance the budget without major tax increases. But he said a number of questions remain, including what the administration means by “corporate tax loopholes.” Demmer said he also has reservations about the proposal to divert revenue from cigarette taxes to the general fund, in part because that money is dedicated to purposes that include paying for building projects as part of the $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure plan that was approved with bipartisan support in 2019. In addition to infrastructure, cigarette tax revenue is earmarked for health care and education.
In December, the Pritzker administration proposed $700 million in cuts in the current budget through steps such as freezing hiring and grants. Some portions of that plan, such as furloughs for state workers, are subject to collective bargaining and have been opposed by unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the largest union representing state workers, has not agreed to make those concessions, spokesman Anders Lindall said. While the governor’s office said it would seek $75 million in savings through negotiations, Lindall called the idea of instituting furloughs to save money “nonsense.”
The administration still is hoping that new aid from Congress will help close the nearly $4 billion hole the state faces for the current year. Pritzker’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how much money the state is hoping to receive through the federal stimulus package being negotiated in Washington.
Governor Pritzker Announces Expansion of Phase 1B Eligibility on February 25th
In light of a steadily increasing federal vaccine supply, Illinois is making plans to expand Phase 1B eligibility on February 25 to people who have comorbidities and underlying conditions as defined by the CDC. In addition, Illinois will also prioritize individuals with disabilities.
Since taking office, the Biden administration has increased the vaccine supply by nearly 30 percent, including a 5 percent increase this week. Among the other major efforts to increase supply:
• The White House is launching a new Community Health Center vaccination program to direct additional vaccine to locations around the country that serve the hardest-hit populations, and that will ramp up over the coming weeks.
• The FDA is scheduled to meet to review the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a one-dose vaccine that does not require extreme cold storage and provided 100 percent protection against hospitalization and death in its clinical trial, for February 26, and the company has said it’s on track to deliver 100 million doses to the United States by the end of June.
“As quickly as we receive enough vaccine supply, we need to waste no time in protecting a broader section of our most vulnerable population,” said Governor Pritzker. “Those who are under 65 and live with comorbidities, such as cancer survivors or those living with heart disease, have an elevated risk of serious complications or death if they contract COVID-19. Illinois is moving forward in accordance with guidance from the CDC to expand our eligible population as supply allows, getting us closer to the point when the vaccine is widely available to all who want it. In the meantime, I encourage all Illinoisans to wear our masks and follow the mitigations so that more of our neighbors are healthy and alive when it’s their turn in the vaccination line.”
The Pritzker administration will begin working with local health departments and other providers across the state to include these additional higher-risk individuals into their community vaccination plans in the weeks ahead. Those health departments that have substantially completed their existing Phase 1B population prior to the February 25 statewide expansion date will be able to move forward earlier at the determination of local public health officials and IDPH.
This expansion applies to individuals 16 and older who aren’t otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories. In accordance with the CDC guidelines, Illinois is using the below guiding framework for what qualifies as a high-risk medical condition once Phase 1B expands on February 25. This list is subject to change as guidance evolves and does not reflect an order of priority:
• Chronic Kidney Disease
• COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
• Heart Condition
• Immunocompromised State from a Solid Organ Transplant
• Pulmonary Disease
• Sickle Cell Disease
To date, the State of Illinois has used more than 78 percent of its vaccine on hand (not including the federal government’s Long-Term Care Vaccination program and the separate supply of the City of Chicago). All three vaccination efforts have together delivered approximately 1.5 million shots, including 1.15 million first doses, to date.
Biden Team Fears: No COVID Herd Immunity Until Fall
Top members of President Joe Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that the U.S. may not reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter—months later than originally calculated—according to two senior administration officials.
In an interview with CBS News this week, Biden hinted at some of these concerns, saying it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity—a population-wide resistance to the virus—“much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Other top officials working on the federal government’s COVID-19 response say they are uneasy about vaccine supply long term and the impact on herd immunity and have begun to explore ways to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, potentially through new partnerships with outside pharmaceutical firms.
Recent data has alarmed health officials in the Biden administration who are now raising questions about what more can be done to not only shorten the herd immunity timeline—not just to return Americans to some sort of normalcy but also to ensure the country does not experience another surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Officials have spent the last several days discussing ways to ramp up genome sequencing to track variants and how to push out the message that Americans need to more closely follow public health guidelines to reduce transmission as B117 variant cases begin to increase.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has previously calculated that about 75 percent of the U.S. population would need to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity, said in an interview that he is still “cautiously optimistic” that the country can achieve that goal by the beginning of the fall.
“I still think that is possible,” Fauci said. “As I’ve said before, once we get into mass vaccination when the general public starts getting it by the end of the spring—April, May, June …and we get past any vaccine hesitancy, then we should be able to reach that 70 or 75 percent mark. We’re going in the right direction.” Fauci caveated that prediction by underscoring the fact that he has ongoing concerns about the new COVID-19 variants.
White House to Send Vaccines Straight to Community Health Centers
Community health centers will be receiving coronavirus vaccines directly from the federal government next week, White House officials announced Tuesday. The goal of the new program is to focus on equitable vaccine distribution, in order to reach traditionally underserved areas.
“Equity is core to our strategy to put this pandemic behind us, and equity means that we are reaching everyone, particularly those in underserved and rural communities, and those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a press briefing.
The program will begin incrementally and will ramp up over time as vaccine supply increases, officials said. The administration will initially send doses to at least one health center in every jurisdiction across the country, with 1 million doses divided across 250 clinics as the program phases in over the next few weeks. Nationwide, there are nearly 1,400 federally funded health centers that provide primary and preventive care to nearly 30 million patients each year.
Health centers will continue to follow state priority guidelines in administering the vaccine and meet necessary reporting requirements. In addition to the health center program, administration officials said they are increasing the number of weekly doses allocated to states, tribes, and territories. Zients said the federal government will ship 11 million doses every week, a 28 percent increase from the 8.6 million doses going out when President Biden took office three weeks ago.
Slow Vaccinations: Another Strike Against Illinois
Illinois’ vaccination efforts to date only reinforce negative perceptions of the state, adding another blemish to our tarnished image. Millions across Illinois who are desperate for vaccinations don’t know where or when they’ll get protection from a virulent pathogen that has killed 20,000 in the state. Many don’t even know how to find answers to those questions. Vaccine quests have been likened to the “Hunger Games,” frantic scrambles that reward only superhuman tenacity, or dumb luck.
Yes, Illinois is far from the only state experiencing such difficulties. But it’s also far behind the leaders. In fact, it’s near the bottom by some key measures.
There are many ways to track performance of state vaccination campaigns. One popular metric is the percentage of a state’s population that has been vaccinated. According to the most recent data from Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, 8.9 percent of Illinois’ population has received at least one of the two shots required for the two vaccines on the market today. That’s below a national average of 10 percent, and No. 39 nationally.
The percentage of population vaccinated matters a lot, because it shows how close a state is getting to the 75 percent level that experts say is necessary to snuff out the virus through “herd immunity.” But the percentage a state has vaccinated depends to some extent on the number of vaccines a state has received through the federally administered “operation warp speed” distribution system.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Illinois officials have complained that the feds aren’t giving the state enough vaccines. But a quick scan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website shows Illinois has received about the same amount as most other states—in the neighborhood of 16,000 doses per 100,000 residents.
In any case, a better measure of a state’s performance is how fast it administers vaccines received from the federal government. That’s the job of the states under the vaccination program set up by the Trump administration.
And that’s where Illinois is lagging. Illinois has administered 69.8 percent of the doses received since vaccines started shipping in December, the Bloomberg tracker shows. That ranks 37th nationally and puts Illinois off the national pace of 73 percent. It’s even further behind the rate in neighboring states that have received comparable supply levels. Wisconsin has administered 82.8 percent of its doses, Indiana 82.6 percent and Michigan 78.8 percent.
If Illinois were giving out vaccines as quickly as Wisconsin, nearly 300,000 more shots would have been administered by now. The number of additional people who would have been vaccinated depends on how many of the shots were first or second doses. Either way, Illinois would be among the leaders in the race to herd immunity. Instead, it’s among the laggards.
The faster pace of inoculations in nearby states means they’ll get the virus under control sooner than Illinois will. Getting the virus under control sooner means they’ll be able to reopen their economies sooner than Illinois. In Illinois, we’ll still be under some degree of economic constraint—whether government-imposed or self-imposed by people wary of catching the virus—while Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and other states are opening up the jets. Normal commerce will resume and lost jobs will return there while we’re still hunkering down.
Beyond the short-term damage of a slower recovery, Illinois faces another blow to its attractiveness as a place to live and work. We’re already losing population and businesses as massive tax burdens, corruption and fiscal mismanagement scare off residents and companies. The stumbling vaccine rollout is one more reason to avoid Illinois. In the past, people have worried mostly about the financial costs of living and investing here. Now there’s a health risk to consider.
FDA Issues Emergency Use Authorization for Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 Antibody Combo
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday gave emergency use authorization for a new combination antibody drug from Eli Lilly that the company says can treat mild and moderate cases of the coronavirus.
The authorization from the FDA is for a treatment that uses both bamlanivimab and etesevimab. It can be used to treat mild or moderate COVID-19 cases in adults and pediatric patients who test positive for the virus and who are at high risk for progressing to severe illnesses. The treatment cannot be used for patients who are hospitalized or require oxygen therapy from the coronavirus.
The FDA had previously authorized a treatment from Eli Lilly that just used bamlanivimab. The new authorization permits the federal government to distribute the treatment to state and territorial health departments to give to certain facilities.
“Today’s action, which provides another treatment for COVID-19, reflects the FDA’s strong commitment to working with sponsors to expand potential treatment options health care providers can use to fight this pandemic,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
The emergency use authorization follows data showing that bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together reduced the risk of COVID-19 hospitalizations and death by 70 percent. Eli Lilly touted the authorization, noting that it will add to the bamlanivimab that is already in circulation and it says has helped reduce hospitalizations.
Program Notices & Reminders
Join the US Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, February 11, at 12 PM ET for the first episode of CO— Roadmap for Rebuilding: Starting a New Business, an interactive discussion focused on giving you the information and insight you need to start up smartly and smoothly, even under tough conditions. RSVP here: https://events.uschamber.com/COStartingaNewBusiness?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=SFMC&utm_campaign=MO_Newsletter&utm_content=2021-02-04&i=NwZEz7aSH9wgs-lRKEBhD5D_oCWot-_z
Illinois DCEO’s Office of Regional Economic Development
Join DCEO for a webinar to learn more about the US Small Business Administration’s Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This federal forgivable COVID-19 Relief Loan Program will help Illinois small businesses keep their employees on payroll during this unprecedented time.
Date: February 11, 2021
Time: 2:00 pm
Presenter: Joe McKeown, Northeast Senior Account Manager for Regional Economic Development, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity
Registration Link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=ed0fa7b16a8d5532fecc820656415fd48
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
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, please join the Joliet Chamber for a virtual conference with Mayor Bob O’Dekirk as he delivers a review of 2020, updates on present City of Joliet projects, and what to expect in the future. On Tuesday, February 23rd, Mayor O’Dekirk will deliver the annual State of the City Address at 11 am. Click here to register: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-state-of-the-city-address-6015
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry