Today’s update aims to take a break from infrastructure talk and vaccine news. Instead, some new topics pop up such as a push for free college, climate proposals, cannabis licenses, and plans for the I80 bridge project. Finally, an interesting article on six items that are leading the way in sales during this “post-pandemic spending spree.”
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Progressive Lawmakers Push for Free College
Progressive lawmakers on Wednesday introduced the latest version of legislation to make four years of college or university free for most families in the country, paid for by new taxes on stock and bond transactions.
The legislation, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., would also double the maximum Pell Grant award to nearly $13,000 and spend billions more on historically Black colleges and universities and programs for disadvantaged students.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of bright young Americans do not get a higher education each year, not because they are unqualified, but because their family does not have enough money,” Sanders said in an announcement.
The bill would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students and allow students from families earning less than $125,000 to attend a public college or university for free. Sponsors said leveraging speculation on Wall Street would fund the education plan. A separate bill unveiled Wednesday would place a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions, a 0.1 tax on bond transactions and a 0.005 percent tax on derivatives.
“While President Biden can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers, Congress must ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans to receive a higher education in the first place,” Jayapal said in the announcement.
The Biden campaign promised to make two years of community college tuition free and provide tuition- free four-year college. The campaign did not mention expanding some programs, such as federal TRIO Programs for disadvantaged students, that target low-income or first-generation college students. It also didn’t include the funding mechanism that would tax stock and bond transactions.
Sanders, Jayapal and other progressives also have pushed the Biden administration to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt without the need for legislation.
Biden’s first budget proposal, released earlier this month, proposed a much smaller increase in Pell Grant awards, up to $6,895, as part of a record proposed increase in Department of Education funding. The current maximum for the 2021-22 school year is $6,495. The tuition-free college push from progressives may factor into any further talks over a broader bill on higher education. Talks have been on the back burner since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans and Democrats Push Dueling Visions Ahead of Climate Summit
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers pushed an array of environmental and energy provisions this week, presenting two quite different visions for the country ahead of a major climate summit this week. President Joe Biden will host 40 world leaders Thursday for a virtual, international climate summit where they are expected to discuss new goals on climate regulation issues such as carbon emissions and coal power plants.
Ahead of that international event, both parties promoted their respective energy and environmental policies. Republicans held the second of their three-day conference Tuesday promoting a litany of “conservative solutions for a better climate,” including a focus on innovation, nuclear power, conservation, regulatory reform, aggressive tree planting, and clean energy infrastructure.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is leading the forum along with more than two dozen other Republican lawmakers who will each tackle a pet issue and “highlight dozens of bills and solutions to deliver a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment.” “Democrats often dismiss Republicans as being disinterested in addressing global climate change,” McCarthy said. “That is just false. Our members have been working for years to develop thoughtful, targeted legislation to reduce global emissions by ensuring we can develop and build a new technology at home.”
Democrats in the House on Tuesday re-introduced the Green New Deal, the flagship legislation that has become a rallying cry for the liberal base and a point of derision for Republicans. For moderate Democrats, it has been more of a headache as they’ve had to balance pressure from progressives and attacks from the right over the most aggressive points in the plan.
More progressive Democrats have used the bill to fund-raise and rally their liberal base. “I ran and won on the Green New Deal,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said at a news conference announcing the re-introduction Tuesday. A poor initial rollout did not help the Green New Deal’s case amongst moderates. When the bill was first unveiled, Republicans were quick to jump on provisions that would ban air travel and the methane produced by cow waste as well as the provision to pay those “unwilling to work.”
The legislative effort also includes a litany of proposals seemingly unrelated to the environment, including affordable housing, free higher education, expanded health care spending and more union jobs. The liberal environmental plan, which is estimated to cost tens of trillions of dollars, has been modified since then but still asserts an aggressive series of changes and unprecedented regulations. “Not only do we refuse to leave any community behind but those who have been left behind come first,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said at a news conference Tuesday. “We’re going to transition to a 100% carbon-free economy that is more unionized, more just, more dignified and that guarantees more health care and housing than we’ve ever had before. That’s our goal.”
Critics of the Democratic agenda say it is more of a socialist makeover of the country than a climate plan. They also argue there will be a spike in energy costs, a loss of competitiveness with China and other economies, as well as a mammoth spike in spending that the nation could not sustain. “A GND policy would yield no benefits in its central energy, environment, and climate context, but it would impose very large economic costs,” American Enterprise Institute environmental expert Benjamin Zycher said.
Zycher also pointed to widespread blackouts if the Democratic plan is implemented. “Without fossil-fired backup generation, the national and regional electricity systems would be characterized by a significant decline in service reliability – that is, a large increase in the frequency and duration of blackouts,” Zycher said. “Battery backup technology cannot solve this problem.”
Lawmaker Looks to Unwind Cannabis License Jam and Overhaul System
Legislators are offering new fixes to the state’s marijuana law to resolve the logjam in issuing pending retail licenses, but they plan a complete overhaul of the process before issuing more. The state’s plan to dole out 75 new licenses to operate marijuana dispensaries last year ran into a quagmire of political and legal delays after questions were raised about how applications were scored and whether the process met social equity goals meant to diversify ownership in the industry. Another 110 licenses are authorized to be issued this year.
Under a bill filed in the House late yesterday by Rep. LaShawn Ford, the state would hold two lotteries to issue the licenses. One would be reserved for the 75 licenses that were supposed to be issued last May, using existing tie-breaker rules to distribute licenses to applicants who received perfect scores. The other round, which would distribute the 110 licenses meant to be issued this year, would be held for applicants who received at least 85 percent of the maximum score.
The lotteries would be held simultaneously. Dispensary operators that existed prior to the state’s recreational weed law would be allowed to move existing retail stores to larger locations nearby—but only 90 days after new licenses are awarded in the lotteries. Holding multiple lotteries would address the immediate problem of getting licenses issued, but not the process itself.
The application procedures were criticized for being cumbersome and full of unintended consequences. Among them was a little-noticed provision that awarded an extra 5 points to applicants that were majority owned by veterans, as well as language that allowed people to file multiple applications. Out of nearly 900 applications, 21 entrants achieved perfect scores, qualifying for a lottery to award 75 licenses.
“After we finish this round, there will be a new application and process for scoring them. That will take a new bill to lay that out,” says Ford, a Democrat from the West Side who sponsored the bill. “Our goal is for new applications to be ready by early 2022 so new applicants can apply. It doesn’t make sense to bring in new applicants until we take care of current applicants.”
The state authorized 500 retail licenses, including 110 held by those already have them from the initial medical program. After the proposed lotteries, the state would have 205 licenses left. Ford’s bill would authorize a lottery for new applicants to compete for five dispensary licenses that weren’t issued under the original medical-marijuana program in 2014. The licenses would include the right to open one additional dispensary.
Legalizing marijuana was one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s goals when he ran for office, but he has largely deferred to the General Assembly to make the fixes to the original law, rather than attempting administrative changes. A previous effort to fix the law during the lame-duck session in January was never called for a vote.
Ford says the bill could come up for a vote this week. If enacted, it would bring a wave of new owners into the Illinois marijuana businesses, which was a major selling point of the law passed two years ago that made recreational marijuana sales legal.
Inspections are Planned for Des Plaines River Bridge by State DOT
Inspections are scheduled to start Monday on the two Interstate 80 bridges over the Des Plaines River in Joliet. The inspections are being done as the Illinois Department of Transportation has begun a project to replace several smaller I-80 bridges in Joliet. The Des Plaines River bridge, too, will be replaced, although IDOT has not yet set the construction date.
The inspections that start Monday, weather permitting, will require daily lane closures on the westbound bridge until May 3, IDOT said in a news release. Lane closures and inspections then are scheduled to shift to the eastbound bridge until May 8. The lane closures will occur between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on Saturdays if necessary, to minimize the impact on traffic, IDOT said. At least two lanes in both directions will remain open during inspections. But IDOT warned motorists to expect delays and to pay close attention to flaggers and signs in the work zones.
Preliminary engineering for the replacement of the Des Plaines River bridges “is just getting started,” IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said in an email responding to questions about that project. IDOT has not yet completed land acquisition needed for the new Des Plaines River bridges, which will be constructed while the existing bridges remain in place. The replacement of the Des Plaines River bridges is part of a $1.2 billion I-80 project that will run 16 miles from Ridge Road in Minooka to Route 30 in New Lenox.
The I-80 project is included in IDOT’s Proposed Highway Improvement Program for fiscal 2021 through fiscal 2026. “Construction is currently targeted for the later years of the program, contingent on plan readiness and land acquisition,” Castaneda said. The entire I-80 project includes the addition of auxiliary lanes to reduce congestion and improvements for interchanges at Interstate 55, Larkin Avenue, and Center, Chicago, Richards, and Briggs streets.
IDOT recently began advance work for the project, including pavement patching and shoulder work between the Chicago and Briggs streets interchanges. The work is being done to accommodate traffic as smaller bridges are replaced east of the Des Plaines River. Those bridges are in the eastbound lanes at Hickory Creek, Richards Street and Rowell Avenue/Canadian National Railroad, and in the westbound lanes over over Richards Street.
Replacement of the eastbound bridges is expected to be completed in late 2022. Then, IDOT will begin replacing bridges in the westbound lanes.
The Post-Pandemic Spending Spree – Here are 6 Things Americans are Buying
Shoppers are emerging from their cocoons and aspiring to switch it up from sweatpants, stubble, and streaming. With each day, more Americans are getting Covid-19 vaccines. As spring temperatures warm up many parts of the country, consumers are booking plane trips, hitting the mall, or watching a movie in a theater again.
Retail sales rose 9.8% in March, according to the Commerce Department, as consumers wasted no time spending their $1,400 stimulus checks. “Their balance sheet is in excellent, outstanding shape – coiled, ready to go and they’re starting to spend money,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said Wednesday on a call with reporters. He said consumers have $2 trillion or more cash in their checking accounts than they did before the pandemic.
As shoppers spend again, they are directing money toward some of the same kinds of purchases and some different ones, too. Sporting goods stores had the largest gain in March, jumping 23.5% from the month before and proving that outdoor and exercise gear remains popular. On the other hand, clothing stores saw sales rise by 18.3% — a change that shows people may be refreshing their wardrobe and going out again.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for market researcher NPD Group, said the kinds of merchandise that people buy illustrates “how we’re going to spend in the short term, as we navigate our way out of this whole mess.” “It’s a really good indicator of where the consumer’s psyche is,” he said.
Here is a look at some of items that have popped in sales recently:
Skirts, jumpsuits, and dresses
Skirts have been the top item flying off shelves in recent months. They were selling out at a higher rate than any other category on a weekly basis, according to research by Refinitiv, a financial market data firm, and StyleSage, an e-commerce analytics company. The two companies analyzed the average sold-out rates of apparel and other merchandise on about 20 retailers’ websites from Feb. 28 to March 21. Those retailers included major departments stores like Kohl’s and specialty apparel shops like H&M and American Eagle.
For skirts, the average monthly sold-out rate was 21% for the month of March versus 11% for the prior March, despite the discount levels being nearly the same.
Customers also flocked to other spring-friendly wardrobe additions, including jumpsuits and dresses, according to the companies’ analysis.
As shoppers look for a fresh outfit, many are turning to denim. When Levi Strauss & Co reported earnings earlier this month, it boosted its sales and profit outlook for the first half of the year and said it expected to see stronger-than-anticipated consumer demand for its jeans and tees.
Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh told CNBC that the industry seems to be in the early innings of a new denim cycle: One where skinny jeans are out of style, and wide-leg, loose-fitting denim is in vogue. The trend is largely being driven by teens and other Gen Z customers who are searching for “mom jeans” to pair with their crop tops.
American Eagle Outfitters is spotting a similar rush toward denim and anticipates a boom in spending, with shoppers returning to the malls again. “We’re still in the pandemic, but when it goes away, we could be looking at the ‘Roaring 20s’” CEO Jay Schottenstein told Jim Cramer on CNBC’s “Mad Money” this week.
Reuniting with friends and family. Planning for upcoming parties. And even snagging an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine. Americans have more causes for celebration lately and some are popping bottles.
Champagne sales at retailers soared by about 103% in the U.S. for the four-week period ended April 3 compared with the same period a year ago, according to NielsenIQ. That’s something the owner of well-known brands, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon, is seeing, too. French luxury conglomerate LVMH said Tuesday that champagne sales rose by 22% in the first three months of this fiscal year compared with the same period a year ago. Its sales in the quarter bested pre-pandemic numbers, too, with a gain of 15% compared with 2019′s first quarter.
Champagne and sparkling wine has made up a larger share of sales for alcohol delivery service Drizly, too. In an interview, Liz Paquette, the company’s head of consumer insights, said bubbles made up 7.4% of the share of total alcohol orders through Drizly in March and April of 2019. That dropped to 5.6% during those two months in 2020 and has rebounded to 8.4% so far this March and April.
Drizly, which Uber is acquiring for $1.1 billion, has noticed an evolution in other buying patterns, too, Paquette said. Customers are buying a larger share of seasonal adult beverages like rose, white white and seltzers instead of whiskey, red wine and lagers, a typical annual shift that did not happen in a pronounced way last spring.
She said sales of liquors, cordials and bitters have decreased slightly, too, and so has the level of gifting — a reflection that customers may be getting ready to head back to their favorite bars and ordering bottles to their own homes to share with friends.
If you have been wearing the same pair of sneakers around the house and on neighborhood walks for the past few months, you’re not alone. That extra activity in a single pair of shoes is driving a higher replacement rate for sneakers. “The replenishment cycle has gotten accelerated,” NPD’s Cohen said. He said sneakers are among the items that have gotten more use during the pandemic, along with pajamas. Plus, he added, people need new footwear after largely skipping over the category for the pandemic.
Dollar sales for footwear in the U.S. fell by 17% to a total of $64 billion for the 12 months that ended February 2021 compared with the prior year, according to The NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service.
Footwear sales improved, however, in March — not only increasing compared with 2020, but also compared with 2019, according to NPD. With sunnier and warmer weather days ahead, customers have been spending stimulus checks on new kicks and even springing for some seasonal and dressier styles. The average percentage of heels sold out across retailers’ websites jumped from 8% in March 2020 to 22% in March 2021, according to an analysis by StyleSage.
Beth Goldstein, NPD’s industry analyst for accessories and footwear, said shoppers are still gravitating toward some kinds of shoes more than others, though. “While nearly all types of footwear improved compared to 2020 as expected, it was the more casual, comfort, and athletic/athleisure styles that performed best and grew vs. 2019, whereas dressier fashion styles continued to struggle,” she said.
Some men are cleaning up their look after sporting five o’clock shadows and quarantine beards — or at least getting a gentle nudge from a friend, family member or significant other. High-end shaving products were among the items selling out at higher rates on retailers’ websites during the four-week period from Feb. 28 to March 28, according to the Refinitiv and StyleSage research. About 3% of shaving products sold out on average during that timeframe, a higher sellout rate than kitchen appliances and garden and patio furniture.
Beard oils and shaving creams from brands like The Art of Shaving, owned by Procter & Gamble, and Kiehl’s, owned by L’Oreal, were among the popular items. Retailers with an elevated sellout rate on their websites included Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, the research found. “For gifting and self-care purchases, people are starting to think of the outside world and what they want to look like,” Shobert of StyleSage said.
It’s been a long winter for those who are used to taking a brief respite from the cold in a sunny island resort. Spring Breakers helped fuel a resurgence in swimwear sales in recent weeks, but more Americans are daring to dream about poolside weekends and beach getaways this summer.
Macy’s Gennette recently called out swimwear as one of the merchandise categories starting to make a rebound, along with luggage and dresses. Summersalt, a direct-to-consumer online swim and apparel brand, said its sales so far in April are up more than 850% from the same time a year ago. Like many other retailers, the nearly four-year-old company saw sales drop in the spring of last year, CEO and co-founder Lori Coulter said in an interview.
Now, she said customers are eager to buy colorful swimsuits, resort-wear and other items that feel fresh and fun. “April was truly the depths of retail sales across the board for most major retailers in 2020, including Summersalt, but what we’re seeing in 2021 is not only a return to our original growth plan for the month — but that accelerated pace of growth that is attributable just to the consumer’s mood,” she said. “She’s ready to celebrate and so that celebration is different for each of us — but it might be that trip to the beach. It might be just ‘We’re ready for a weekend getaway.’”
“What we’re seeing is categories that essentially encourage her to be out and about — swimsuit included — are really resonating,” Coulter said. “She’s looking for fun.”
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Joliet Junior College
Here are our upcoming no-cost webinars:
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?
• 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.
Webinar: The Certification Process (ecenterdirect.com)
Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund
SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman announced key details on application requirements, eligibility, and a program guide for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RFF). The restaurant industry has been among the hardest-hit sectors during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help bring jobs back and revive the industry, the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden, established the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA will administer the funds to the hardest-hit small restaurants.
Ahead of the application launch and over the next two weeks, the SBA will establish a seven-day pilot period for the RRF application portal and conduct extensive outreach and training. The pilot period will be used to address technical issues ahead of the public launch. Participants in this pilot will be randomly selected from existing PPP borrowers in priority groups for RRF and will not receive funds until the application portal is open to the public.
Following the pilot, the application portal will be opened to the public. The official application launch date will be announced at a later date. For the first 21 days that the program is open, the SBA will prioritize reviewing applications from small businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Following the 21-day period, all eligible applicants are encouraged to submit applications.
As the SBA builds and prepares to roll out the program, this dedicated SBA website is the best source for up-to-date information for eligible restaurants interested in the RRF.
Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program
Over the next few days, the SBA tech team and vendors will remain focused on testing the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal; it will not reopen in the next few days, rather they are aiming to reopen the portal by the end of the week.
As we’ve shared, after their vendors fixed the root cause of the initial tech issues, more in-depth risk analysis and stress tests identified other issues that impact application performance. The vendors are quickly addressing and mitigating them and working tirelessly with the SBA team so the application portal can reopen ASAP and they can deliver this critical aid.
We have and will continue to share updates regularly. For the most current updates, continue to check SBA’s Twitter feed. And, again, applicants will have advance notice so they can be best prepared. For more information about the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, visit sba.gov/svogrant.
Small Business Administration Program: Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)
Effective immediately, applicants can send a request for reevaluation of a Targeted EIDL Advance application that was declined to the following email address:
Applicants should follow these instructions when requesting a reevaluation:
- Send an email to TargetedAdvanceReevaluation@sba.gov
- Use the subject line “Reevaluation Request for [insert your 10-digit application number]”
- In the body of the email, include identifying information for the application such as application number, business name, business address, business owner name(s) and phone number
- Important: Include an explanation and any documentation that addresses the reason for the decline, if available. SBA will contact applicants if additional documentation is required to complete the review.
Illinois SBA Programming
External Funding: Methods and sources of capital to fund your business
Join the International Trade Center to learn about loans and external funding options to run your business. The webinar will also discuss equity investments, using personal savings, credit lines, and other resources for your small business funding needs. Thursday, April 22, 9 a.m.
Small Business Development Center Webinar: COVID-19 Financial Assistance for Small Businesses and Non-Profits
Join the Champaign County EDC for guidance on the different financial assistance options available to small businesses and non-profits in Illinois. This webinar, led by SBDC Director Don Elmore, will cover details about the newest round of economic aid being administered by the SBA for small businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, and the SBA Debt Relief Program. The webinar will also note other financial options currently available to small businesses and non-profits. Thursday, April 22, 10 a.m.
Illinois DCEO Updates
Team RED will be hosting numerous program webinars in addition to the PPP webinars noted above 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.
Business Enterprise Program (BEP)
Date and Time: April 22, 2021, 1:30-2:30 pm
BEP assists businesses owned by minorities, women, and people with disabilities gain access to the State of Illinois procurement process. BEP certification with the State of Illinois can also open the door to opportunities with other public and private entities which are looking for diverse suppliers.
Register Here: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/onstage/g.php?MTID=e0f90a95eaab454a002b23a3c652d1f72
Finally, make sure you get your RSVP in to join us at our first Business After Hours / Open House for our new Chamber office. Hope to see a good number of you next Thursday, April 29th.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry