Chamber Members:

Glad to be back in touch with our daily updates after some time off. Today’s update is certainly packed with information to catch up on so make sure that you read through and don’t miss anything.

*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital

State & National Covid Update
As of last night, 1,998 individuals in Illinois were reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 418 patients were in the ICU and 177 patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators. The preliminary seven-day statewide positivity for cases as a percent of total test from April 5-11, 2021 is 4.4%.  The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity from April 5-11, 2021 is 4.9%. Our region, Region 7, currently stans at 5.9% and our neighbors in DuPage County and Region 8 are currently at 7.4% and Region 1 which is DeKalb and north & west is 6.2%.

Tier 1 mitigations would kick in if test positivity rate of 8% or greater is hit for three consecutive days over a 14 day monitoring period (7 day average) or sustained increase in test positivity rate (7 day average over 7 of 10 days) and either a sustained increase in Covid patients in hospital (7 day average over 7 of 10 days) or staffed hospital and ICU beds are less than 20% for three consecutive days (3 day average).

The U.S. seven-day average of newly reported coronavirus infections continued to rise, as some states struggle with elevated caseloads. Five states—Michigan, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey—account for some 42% of new infections as younger people who haven’t been vaccinated are helping drive a rise. Nearly 22% of Americans are now fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Regeneron said it would ask the Food and Drug Administration to expand authorization of its antibody drug among people exposed to the virus who haven’t yet been vaccinated, which could provide temporary stopgap protection as people await vaccines. A new study found the drug reduced the risk of developing symptomatic Covid-19 infection by 81%.

Vaccinations are by appointment only

Pickup in Economic Growth Ahead
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy appears to be at an inflection point, with output and job growth poised to accelerate in the months ahead as long as the Covid-19 pandemic retreats.

“We feel like we’re at a place where the economy’s about to start growing much more quickly and job creation coming much more quickly,” Mr. Powell said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday evening on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” He said the Fed’s forecast is that the economy could produce close to one million jobs a month for “a string of months.”

The central-bank chief urged Americans to continue socially distancing and wearing masks, saying a resurgence of Covid-19 remains the primary risk to the economic outlook.

The U.S. seven-day average of newly reported Covid-19 cases has been climbing in recent weeks after a steady, months long decline following a deadly fall surge. Daily cases exceeded 75,000 on April 7, down from a peak of 300,000 in early January but higher than at any point in the first six months of the pandemic.

Mr. Powell reiterated that the Fed plans to wait until the economy’s recovery is complete before it raises interest rates. “It’ll be a while until we get to that place,” Mr. Powell said, according to a transcript of the interview, which took place on Wednesday. Asked whether a rate increase might happen this year, Mr. Powell said it is “highly unlikely.”

Mr. Powell and other Fed officials have indicated in recent weeks that they expect to hold U.S. short-term interest rates near zero through 2023. They also plan to continue the Fed’s $120 billion of monthly bond purchases until the economy makes “substantial further progress” toward its goals of maximum employment and sustained 2% inflation.

Infrastructure Update
President Biden’s infrastructure plan tops the priorities list as Congress returns to work Tuesday. Negotiations over the size and scope of the package will begin this week. Democratic leaders have made it clear that they will be willing to move forward without GOP support if the two sides can’t find common ground

President Joe Biden drew a red line on his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan last week, saying he is open to compromise on how to pay for the package but inaction is unacceptable.

The president turned fiery in an afternoon speech, saying that the United States is failing to build, invest and research for the future and adding that failure to do so amounts to giving up on “leading the world.”

“Compromise is inevitable,” Biden said. “We’ll be open to good ideas in good faith negotiations. But here’s what we won’t be open to: We will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction, simply, is not an option.”

Biden challenged the idea that low tax rates would do more for growth than investing in care workers, roads, bridges, clean water, broadband, school buildings, the power grid, electric vehicles, and veterans’ hospitals.

The president has taken heat from Republican lawmakers and business groups for proposing that corporate tax increases should finance an infrastructure package that goes far beyond the traditional focus on roads and bridges.

The business community, labor groups and progressives are squaring off over the PRO Act, which is a part of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal. The path of the union bill is hazy. Progressives, labor unions and the business community are squaring off over the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The bill would make it easier for gig workers and other independent contractors to unionize and set an enforceable timeline for union-employer negotiations to commence. It would also undercut states’ “right to work” laws by allowing unions to collect dues from workers who opted out.

The path of the union bill is uncertain as Congress starts to transform Mr. Biden’s outline into legislation. The labor proposal doesn’t square with Senate rules on what sort of legislation can typically be advanced with just a simple majority; most Republicans oppose it and several Democrats in the 50-50 chamber have remained noncommittal in their stance.

Mr. Biden plans a series of discussions with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the contents of his package. A White House official didn’t specify if the president wants the PRO Act written into an infrastructure bill or just pursued as a complement to it. “The president supports the PRO Act and wants to see it passed in its entirety,” the official said.

The push for the PRO Act comes amid a renewed national debate over unionization, particularly in new and fast-growing segments of the blue-collar economy. Amazon employees in Alabama voted not to unionize last week, defeating a high-profile labor effort that had the backing of Mr. Biden and sparking split reactions on Capitol Hill.

Supporters say the bill would ensure jobs created by the Biden infrastructure proposal are higher paying, as more workers would be able to join unions that could negotiate on their behalf. The union legislation is a key priority of labor unions and the party’s left flank, which also sees it as a way to stem widening income inequality.

Opponents, including many Republicans, ride-share companies, and franchisees, say the legislation would impose sweeping changes to labor laws that have little to do with the president’s spending plan and amount to a giveaway to unions, and would stifle business and economic growth.

The PRO Act was approved by the House last month, 225-206, with the support of nearly all Democrats and five Republicans. But it faces steep odds in the evenly divided Senate, where it would likely require 60 votes for passage and currently has 45 out of 50 Democrats supporting it. Others, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) haven’t weighed in.

Tourism and Hospitality Leaders Call for State Support & Guidance
Leaders from the state’s tourism and hospitality industry asked legislators for additional support and reopening guidance during a Thursday committee hearing as the state plans next steps for its COVID-19 economic recovery.

Michael Jacobson, President and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, told the House Tourism Committee Thursday that hotels have “been among the hardest hit” segment of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the industry may not see a full recovery until 2024 at the earliest. “The situation is certainly looking encouraging, but there’s still a lot of work to do in order for the hotel and tourism industry to fully recover,” Jacobson said. “This is not going to be a recovery in one or two years, it’s going to be a several-year process.”

Jacobson said Illinois hotels suffered a loss of $3.5 billion in revenue and that over 21,000 hotel employees were laid off as a result of the pandemic over the past year. Jacobson told legislators that allowing events and gatherings to resume in a safe manner as soon as possible and directing federal support dollars to hotels and businesses most impacted by the pandemic would be key to revitalizing that segment of the economy, which generates billions of dollars in revenue for the state every year. “Besides keeping our employees and guests healthy and safe, our top priority is simple, getting hotel workers back to work. Our hotels want to get back up and running, but need direct financial support in the short term,” Jacobson said.

In addition to short-term financial assistance, Jacobson and industry leaders also said passing limited COVID-19 liability protections for businesses would help hotels and businesses to work toward a full recovery. However, even with a reopening plan in place, industry leaders said that many questions remain for businesses across the state.

Rob Karr, President and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said additional guidance from the state on reopening guidelines would be needed in order for struggling businesses to get back on their feet. Karr said that while industry leaders welcomed additional flexibility for events and gatherings under the state’s recently announced “bridge phase” to reopening, questions remain over how businesses would effectively enforce capacity guidelines as outlined under the plan. “We need to maximize our businesses, the theory that you’re open and you’re doing okay, is just not accurate. No one’s businesses were built to survive at 50 percent or even 75 percent occupancy,” Karr said.

Under guidelines set forth in the state’s bridge phase, vaccinated individuals would not count against a business or venue’s capacity restrictions, but Karr questioned how businesses or local authorities would be able to enforce those restrictions. “Currently, the guidance from the state is businesses each on their own are required to figure out how to prove up whether somebody is fully vaccinated. Respectfully, that’s untenable,” Karr added.

Jacobson told the committee that a possible alternative would be to base capacity guidelines and mitigations on hospitalization utilization rather than case positivity as more of the state’s population is vaccinated. “This is something that we’ve seen a big shift in the governor and (Illinois Department of Public Health’s) approach in recent weeks, and we are supportive of,” Jacobson said.

Derek Blaida, representing the Illinois Restaurant Association, echoed similar concerns for the state’s food service industry, which also relies heavily on events and tourism for business. Blaida said 20 percent of Illinois restaurants are expected to close permanently and that over 124,000 food service jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic. “We need to keep building on pragmatic approaches to reopening regulations, so we can plan for and attract conventions, annual events, festivals and more back to our state,” Blaida said. “Our world class restaurants, hotels and event venues cannot lose another summer due to regulations and occupancy caps that are just too strict.”

“We just want to be steadily moving forward with incremental changes so restaurants can keep their doors open, keep serving communities, and keep people employed,” he added.

Changes to Illinois Employers’ Use of Criminal Convictions: What You Need to Know
At the end of March, Governor Pritzker signed into law Senate Bill 1480, the Employee Background Fairness Act. This impacts Illinois employers because it imposes new obligations under the Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) on the way they can use criminal convictions to assess employment eligibility for applicants and current employees. It also imposes new reporting and registration requirements concerning employee demographics under the Illinois Business Corporation Act (IBCA) and the Illinois Equal Pay Act (IEPA) and creates new whistleblower anti-retaliation protections under the IEPA. The amendments take effect immediately. This post will focus on the amendments to the IHRA.

IHRA Amendments
The IHRA is amended to make it a civil rights violation for an employer, employment agency or labor organization (collectively “employer”) to use a conviction record as a basis to refuse to hire, to segregate or to act with respect to recruitment, hiring, promotion, renewal of employment, selection for training or apprenticeship, discharge, discipline, tenure or terms, privileges, or conditions of employment, subject to the exception below. “Conviction record” is defined as “information indicating that a person has been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or other criminal offence, placed on probation, fined, imprisoned, or paroled pursuant to any law enforcement or military authority.”

An employer is permitted to deny employment or take an adverse action based on an individual’s conviction record if there is a substantial relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought or held, or the granting or continuation of the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public. The IHRA defines “substantial relationship” to mean “a consideration of whether the employment position offers the opportunity for the same or similar offense to occur and whether the circumstances leading to the conduct for which the person was convicted will recur in position sought or held.”

To determine whether a “substantial relationship” exists, the amendments to the IHRA require employers to consider the following factors in evaluating the “substantial relationship” or risk to property or safety factors noted above:

  • the length of time since the conviction;
  • the number of convictions that appear on the conviction record;
  • the nature and severity of the conviction and its relationship to the safety and security of others;
  • the facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction;
  • the age of the employee at the time of the conviction; and
  • evidence of rehabilitation efforts.

The amendments to the IHRA require employers to engage in an “interactive assessment” for disqualifying an applicant or employee. Specifically, the IHRA provides that after considering the above factors, if the employer initially believes that the individual’s conviction record disqualifies the person from the position sought or currently held, the employer is required to notify the individual of this preliminary decision in writing.

The written notification must contain:

  • notice of the disqualifying conviction or convictions that are the basis for the preliminary decision and the employer’s reasoning for the disqualification;
  • a copy of the conviction history report; if any; and
  • an explanation of the employee’s right to respond to the notice of the employer’s preliminary decision before that decision becomes final.

The notice must also inform the employee that the response may include, but is not limited to, submission of evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction record that is the basis for the disqualification or evidence of mitigation, such as rehabilitation.

Before the employer can render a final decision, it must give the individual five business days from the date the employee receives the required written notification to respond. While the amendments do not, however, define or give examples of what “evidence” the employer is required to consider and/or accept, the amendments do provide that the employer “shall consider information submitted by the employee before making a final decision.” If an employer makes a final decision to disqualify or take an adverse action solely or in part because of the individual’s conviction record, the employer is required to notify the individual in writing of the following:

  • notice of the disqualifying conviction or conviction(s) that are the basis for the final decision and the employer’s reasoning of the disqualification;
  • any existing procedure the employer has for the employee to challenge the decision or request reconsideration; and
  • the right to file a charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Notably, an employer who uses a third-party screening company to obtain information about an individual’s credit history, criminal background, references, or other personal information must also follow the procedures set out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The requirements under FCRA are in addition to what is now required under the IHRA should an employer seek to use an individual’s conviction records as a basis for disqualification.

Because the amendments to the IHRA described above go into effect immediately, Illinois employers currently onboarding applicants who may have criminal convictions that could disqualify, or those that learn/know of criminal convictions that the employer may seek to use as a basis to discipline and/or terminate, must quickly familiarize themselves with the new obligations under the IHRA to avoid a charge of discrimination.

Office Returns Could Be Sooner Than Expected
The quicker-than-expected return to the workplace means CEOs and human resources departments are under increased pressure to make difficult decisions. Those include how quickly to mandate on-site work, whether to ask for proof of vaccinations and how to navigate shared spaces where people gather for coffee breaks and meetings.

Corporations also must nail down policies on how much, or little, work will continue to be done remotely. Some of the world’s best-known companies — including Amazon and Google, which have large offices in Chicago — have begun telling employees they’re getting close to welcoming large numbers of workers back to the office.

Other companies say they’ll create a hybrid environment, with employees in the office, but less than five days a week. “Now that vaccinations have picked up, that has created a parallel momentum for company managers to get their act together in planning to bring people back,” said Philippe Weiss, president of Seyfarth at Work, a subsidiary of law firm Seyfarth Shaw that consults companies on workplace relations. “A month ago, a lot of my clients were talking about the summer at the earliest. Now when companies call me, they may be bringing people back by May.”

One of the most debated topics is whether to require workers to be vaccinated, or to meet other conditions, in order to return. Weiss said 25% of his clients are considering requiring vaccinations.

The topic has come up often enough that Kastle Systems, which provides key-card entry systems and other security technology to landlords and employers, has begun offering options such as whether a worker has been vaccinated or recently tested for COVID-19 as new criteria for building access. No companies have signed on yet, said Mark Ein, chairman of Virginia-based Kastle Systems.

“Every company is going to have to make their own decisions,” Ein said. “My personal belief is that the vast majority of people are only going to feel safe if they know everybody in the office doesn’t have COVID, either because they’ve been vaccinated or because they’ve been tested. People will only come back if they have that assurance. “I think once most people are vaccinated, the return to the office will be quicker and at higher levels than many people predict.”

Kastle, which works with about 3,000 companies in 165 Chicago-area buildings, found only 14.2% of workers had returned as of late March. That was the second-lowest rate of 10 metropolitan areas tracked by the company, trailing only San Francisco. The average is 24.2% occupancy.

Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Joliet Junior College
Here are our upcoming no-cost webinars:

Funding Your Business (with Nancy Kuzma) on April 14th at 2pm
Funding your business is critical for start-ups as well as companies who are looking to expand. Establishing business credit is the first step. Get a basic understanding of what banks look for to qualify for a loan from Nancy Kuzma of Old Plank Trail Community Bank/Wintrust Community Bank.
Funding Your Business Webinar (

Government Certification Process (with Rita Haake at COD) on April 27th at 1pm
Certifications: Interpreting the alphabet to pursue profits! Which small business certification is the best one for you?
Your options:
• Federal: 8(a), EDWOSB, HUBZone, SDB, SDVOSB, WOSB, VOSB
• 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.
Webinar: The Certification Process (

Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program
The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) Grant program was established by The Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Non-Profits, and Venues Act, signed into law on December 27, 2020.   The SBA has announced that they will begin to accept applications under this program on April 8, 2021.  The application portal will open in a tiered approach.  Please check the SBA website (link below) for more information. 

Eligible applicants may qualify for SVO Grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million. $2 billion is reserved for eligible applications with up to 50 full-time employees.  Eligible entities include:
o    Live venue operators or promoters
o    Theatrical producers
o    Live performing arts organization operators
o    Relevant museum operators, zoos and aquariums who meet specific criteria
o    Motion picture theater operators
o    Talent representatives, and
o    Each business entity owned by an eligible entity that also meets the eligibility requirements

This program is not yet open for applications. SBA has issued more guidance on this program in the past week.  Applicants can apply for PPP prior to applying to the SVOG program.  If they do receive a PPP loan after 12/27/20, they will have the SVOG reduced by the PPP loan amount.  To follow updates on this program, please click here to go to the SBA’s website.  Applicants must also have a valid registration to apply for this program.  Here’s a link to a video on how to apply: Entity Registration Training – YouTube .

Small Business Administration Program: Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)
This week SBA announced that for loans approved starting the week of April 6, 2021, the maximum loan amount will be increased to $500,000.  For loans approved prior to the week of April 6, 2021, please click here for information from SBA on loan increases.

The SBA is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses and non-profit organizations that are suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19.  These loans may be used to pay debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact, and that are not already covered by a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profits. The first payment is deferred for one year.  Applicants must be physically located in the U.S. or designated territory and suffered working capital losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, not due to a downturn in the economy or other reasons.  Eligible applicants include the following:

  •  Cooperatives with 500 or fewer employees
  •  Agricultural enterprises with 500 or fewer employees

•     Most private nonprofits
•     Faith-based organizations
•     Sole proprietorships and independent contractors

The deadline to apply for this program has been extended to December 31, 2021.  The SBA has also extended deferment periods for all disaster loans including EIDL until 2022.  All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2020, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 24-months from the date of the note.  All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2021, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 18-months from the date of the note.  For more information and the application, please click here to go to the SBA’s website.

Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity
Team RED will be hosting numerous program webinars over the next few weeks.  Please join us and learn about these programs.  While different team members from around the state are hosting the webinars, they are open to anyone to attend.  You can view the full list of upcoming events on our website here.

Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA)
Date and time: Wednesday, April 14, 2021 10:00 am
Please join the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Regional Economic Development for a webinar to learn more about the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) Pre-Award Process.  The Department uses an accountability program to take a customer-centered approach to grants management and monitoring.  The agency, which administers and oversees nearly 10,000 grants each fiscal year, manages various economic, community and workforce development programs, services, and initiatives.  The Department of Commerce partners with businesses, local governments, nonprofit organizations, workers, and families to enhance the state’s economy.
Register Here:

Advantage Illinois Loan Program for Small Businesses
Date and time: Wednesday, April 14, 2021 6:00 PM
Please join the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Office of Regional Economic Development for a webinar to learn more about the Advantage Illinois Loan Program.
This program enhances capital for Illinois businesses, which is a top priority. By working with the state’s banking community and venture capitalists, DCEO will help entrepreneurs and small
businesses start-up, expand, and create new jobs at a faster rate.
Register Here:

Advantage Illinois: How local community banks can partner with the State of Illinois to help small business
Date and time: Tuesday, April 27, 2021 10:00 am
Enhancing access to capital for Illinois businesses is a top priority. The Brookings Institution has noted that more than 95% of new jobs are derived from business expansion or start up activity. Small businesses are the backbone of the Illinois economy, and the Advantage Illinois program is here to assist. In this webinar you will learn how the state’s banking community can help entrepreneurs and small businesses start up, expand, and create new jobs at a faster rate by partnering with the State of Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity through this participation loan program. Guest speakers include John D. Hill and Mark Schultz, Advantage Illinois Team for the Office of Business Development. Local community banks are encouraged to attend!
Register Here:

Team RED Office hours
DCEO’s Regional Economic Development Team is hosting weekly office hours on the days and times listed below.  These sessions are designed as open times that the Team is available.  The Team will provide you with the latest updates and answer any questions you may have on state or federal programs.  Feel free to drop in for any assistance you need.  If these times do not work for you, please reach out to your regional Team RED representative.  We’re always here to help.

Mondays from 3pm – 4pm
Meeting link:

Wednesdays from 1pm – 2pm
Meeting link:

Thursdays from 3pm – 4pm
Meeting link:

Fridays from 10am – 11am
Meeting link:

Finally, congratulations to all of those elected or re-elected to various governing boards throughout the region. There are still a couple of close races that will be determined this week after final ballots are counted at the Clerk’s office.

Stay well,

Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors

Mike Paone
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct