What a nice day outside and a nice day to deliver some news on masks, vaccines, and more. Look below on new CDC guidance, the May 3rd opening of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund program, state finances & redistricting, minimum wage for federal contractors, and a new entry into the vaccine scene. Enjoy the June like weather!
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
CDC Unveils New Mask Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Americans
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled updated guidelines on Tuesday detailing activities that vaccinated people can safely resume, including attending small outdoor gatherings without the need to wear a mask.
The new “interim public health recommendations” detail a variety of situations in which fully vaccinated individuals can forgo wearing a mask, but urged the continued use of masks in most indoor settings and in crowded outdoor settings.
“Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing by Biden administration officials. “Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time telling Americans what they cannot do, what they should not do. Today, I’m going to tell you some of the things you can do if you are fully vaccinated.”
The new recommendations say fully vaccinated individuals can engage in the following activities without wearing masks:
- Walking, running, hiking, or biking outdoors alone or with members of their household
- Attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends
- Attending small outdoor gatherings with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
- Dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households.
Fully vaccinated people can also attend “a crowded, outdoor event, like a live performance, parade, or sports event,” as long as they remain masked, according to a CDC infographic of the new guidelines.
The new guidelines suggest that fully vaccinated individuals continue wearing masks when in public spaces, when gathering indoors with unvaccinated people from more than one household, when visiting unvaccinated high-risk individuals or in an outdoor setting or venue where masks are required. The updated CDC guidance recommends that fully vaccinated people continue to avoid medium or large-sized gatherings.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, previewed the new guidance on Monday, telling a virtual event hosted by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health that “the risk of infection outside is really minimum. If you’re vaccinated, and you’re outside, it’s even less.”
Restaurants Can Tap $29 Billion Covid-19 Aid Program Beginning May 3
The Small Business Administration will begin accepting applications May 3 for a $29 billion grant program aimed at boosting the restaurant industry, according to the agency. The program, officially known as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, is the first federal pandemic aid exclusively for restaurants, bars, and other food-service businesses. It was authorized by Congress as part of its $1.9 trillion coronavirus-aid package that became law last month and will be a key source of aid to an industry that has been hard hit by the pandemic.
Restaurants and bars reported sales of $659 billion last year, down by nearly a quarter from 2019, according to the National Restaurant Association. More than 110,000 bars and restaurants closed at least temporarily, according to the trade group’s estimates. Restaurant owners lobbied Congress for months for dedicated funding for the industry, arguing that restrictions imposed on in-person dining to curb the virus’s spread harmed their ability to do business.
Grant recipients are eligible to receive funding equivalent to their pandemic-related revenue loss, up to $10 million per business, according to the SBA website. A single physical location can receive no more than $5 million.
Interested businesses can begin registering for the grant application portal on Friday, April 30, and applications will open at noon EST on the following Monday, according to the SBA. The agency earlier this month said it was testing the portal to address any technical issues ahead of the initiative’s public launch.
Beyond restaurants and bars, the SBA is allowing food trucks, caterers, cafes and some distilleries, breweries, and inns to apply for the grants. Business owners can have up to 20 locations, and franchisees for major chains may apply. Public companies aren’t eligible, nor are live-music venues that have applied for funding through the SBA’s program targeting those establishments.
The grant funds may be used for expenses such as payroll costs, business supplies and construction of outdoor seating. Restaurant sales have improved from steep declines during the winter, when many states imposed fresh restrictions to try to curb the virus’s spread. Still, food businesses have continued to suffer. Nearly 14,200 restaurants closed for good this year through March, according to market-research firm Datassential.
Patrick Kelley, associate administrator of the SBA’s Office of Capital Access, said during a recent training with restaurant owners that funding for the grants will likely run out in its first phase without all eligible applicants receiving money. Mr. Kelley said the agency was working to ensure business owners got their grants as quickly as possible without it being distributed irresponsibly. “The guiding principle is that the most amount of relief goes to as many businesses in as short amount of time,” Mr. Kelley said.
If funding is exhausted, Congress would need to allocate additional money for the program to continue. The SBA has said it would process and fund certain priority groups through the first 21 days of the grant program. Those groups include businesses that are majority owned by women, veterans or people who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Following the priority period, the agency will fund other applications on a first-come, first-served basis.
State Financial Picture is Up and Down
The state’s fiscal news of late has been a whole lot better than just about anyone expected. March’s base general funds revenue grew by $422 million versus a year ago, mainly because of stronger than expected receipts of personal and corporate income taxes and sales taxes. That follows a growth of $330 million in February’s receipts.
The revenue surge has been so rosy that some have openly wondered whether Gov. JB Pritzker was telling the truth last year when he warned voters that failing to approve a graduated income tax, which eventually would have produced $3 billion-plus each year in new revenue, would result in budget cuts or higher taxes. But a little-noticed budget forecast published during spring break by the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability threw some cold water on all the excitement.
“The 2017 income tax increase closed some of the structural gap in the budget but the state still has more work to do to truly be able to operate under a sustainable model moving forward,” COGFA reported. That structural budget gap also came up in a recent report by the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, which noted that Illinois’ expenditures exceeded revenue by about 10% each year between 2010 and 2020. But back to COGFA’s report, which claimed “As demonstrated in this report, based on forecast models, the state needs to raise more revenue and/ or reduce expenditures.”
The commission produced several scenarios, including one that used the projected spending for this fiscal year and next fiscal year and applied the 2.7% annual spending growth averaged here over the past five years. In that scenario, the fiscal 2022 deficit would be $1.2 billion, fiscal 2023’s deficit would be $1.7 billion and the fiscal 2024 budget would have a $1.9 billion hole with more than a $9.9 billion bill backlog (currently at $5.4 billion).
Basing projections on the same two fiscal years with an average 3.2% spending growth seen in Illinois over the past 10 years, the projected fiscal 2024 deficit grows to $2.3 billion and the bill backlog would be $10.6 billion. But basing calculations on only this fiscal year’s spending would produce even higher deficits and backlogs: A $5 billion deficit and a $19.1 billion backlog by fiscal 2024 with 2.7% annual spending growth and a whopping $5.7 billion deficit and a $20.5 billion bill backlog with a 3.2% spending growth.
To bring the bill backlog down to $0, COGFA calculated that the state would need annual spending cuts of 5.3% and 4.7%, depending on which fiscal year spending base is used in the projection. Zero-growth budgets would produce a $413 million surplus and a $6.5 billion backlog by 2024 in one scenario and a $1.4 billion deficit and a $12 billion backlog in the other. But even achieving flat spending is hugely difficult because of ever-increasing pension obligations, medical inflation, and education spending pressures, not to mention all the other programs that legislators and governor’s devise.
One of COGFA’s suggestions was reducing statutory interest rates on past-due bills of between 9% and 12% annually, which it claimed could reduce spending by $15million to $45 million a year. Although it looks good on paper, the hard fact remains that vendors have been shafted for two decades by this state and it’s already difficult to find people who will do business with Illinois. Cutting that interest rate would make it even tougher. COGFA also suggested expanding the sales tax base, which is something the governor has rejected. But the commission did have one piece of sound advice: Use the $7.5 billion from the federal government’s new American Rescue Plan to pay off the money borrowed from the feds, pay down the state’s bill backlog, use some of the cash to generate as much federal matching funds as possible and patch any COVID-19-caused budgetary holes. That will definitely help keep down the projected bill backlogs, but it won’t do much to correct the structural budget problems this state has had for many years.
Pritzker Makes it Clear He’ll Sign Democrats’ Remap Plan
Gov. J.B. Pritzker today gave his strongest signal yet that, regardless of what he said in the past, he’s now prepared to sign new legislative and congressional district maps drawn without significant Republican input. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in an unrelated press conference today that it’s too late to form the independent commission he once had said should take charge of remap.
Instead, whatever emerges from the Democratic-dominated Legislature is likely to get his signature, provided it’s “fair,” he said, adding that the map Democrats adopted 10 years ago had “a very strong leaning toward fairness.” Since that map was adopted, the state’s congressional delegation has shifted from 8 Democrats and 11 Republicans in 2011 to 13 Democrats and five Republicans now. And Democrats have commanded veto-proof supermajorities in both the state House and Senate.
One top Republican immediately accused Pritzker of “again going back on his word.” Pritzker aides denied that. At issue is the redrawing of legislative and district maps after the decennial U.S. Census. Even though only statewide figures are available so far, Democrats appear intent on plowing ahead with other data and approving new maps by June 30. Failure to adopt new maps by then potentially could let Republicans back into the game, because at that point under the Illinois Constitution a bipartisan commission would be formed to draw maps with the tie-breaking member randomly selected by lottery, giving the GOP a 50-50 shot of controlling the remap.
Asked about that today, Pritzker replied, “As I’ve said, I will veto an unfair map. I’ve also said that in order for us to have an independent commission we needed to have a constitutional amendment—something that would actually change the way the process operates today in the constitution.” However, he added, “That did not happen. So now, as we reach the end of this session and I look to the Legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map, I’ll be looking to it for its fairness.”
Pritzker said Republicans are refusing to cooperate in that process and are “just fighting” the Democrats’ plan. But they should go along because the last remap process was fair, he continued. “The map that was put together for the last 10 years started out with a very strong leaning toward fairness, which was the Supreme Court rulings of the past dictated the drawing of minority districts in the state to start with that map—and then you have to draw from there,” he said. And besides, “As you know, there are parts of the state that are overwhelmingly one party or another party, and it’s very difficult to draw competitive districts in those areas.”
Pritzker’s comments drew immediate push back from Asst. House GOP Leader Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield, who said that Republicans offered several plans for an independent commission that were all blocked by Democrats. “It’s your friends and the Democrats who are not engaging,” Butler said in a speech on the House floor. “We need you to hold to your word.”
Also rapping Pritzker was House GOP Leader Jim Durkin. “The governor seems to suffer from retrograde amnesia on this important topic,” Durkin said a statement. “The governor needs to lead and ensure that an independent body draw the maps as he promised voters in 2018.”
Biden to Sign Order Requiring $15 Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors
President Biden will sign an executive order Tuesday requiring that federal contractors pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the White House said. The order would affect hundreds of thousands of people working on federal contracts, the White House said, including cleaning and maintenance workers, as well as nursing assistants and food-service workers.
Under the order, starting Jan. 30, 2022, all agencies will need to include a $15 minimum wage in new contract solicitations, and by March 30, 2022, all agencies will need to implement it into new contracts. Agencies will also need to incorporate it into existing contracts when they are extended. The current minimum wage for workers performing work on covered federal contracts is $10.95. The order would also phase out the use of a tipped minimum wage for federal contractors, currently $7.65 an hour, by 2024.
In January, Mr. Biden signed an order to start the process so that he could sign this order within his first 100 days. At the time, the White House said he would sign an order requiring that federal contractors pay a $15-an-hour minimum wage and provide paid leave for their employees.
A senior administration official said that paid leave wasn’t incorporated into this plan but noted that there are tax credits for employers in the recent Covid-19 aid bill that cover leave for certain coronavirus-related reasons.
The Most Promising Vaccine You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Hopes are growing that a dark-horse coronavirus vaccine from a tiny U.S. drug maker can shore up supplies in the U.S. and globally as safety concerns and production problems shadow shots from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
The vaccine’s developer, Novavax, has never brought a product to market. The shot entered late-stage clinical trials months after candidates from bigger names like Pfizer and Moderna. But the Novavax vaccine proved just as potent as those mRNA shots in a U.K. trial, and the company is now preparing to file for U.S. authorization in a matter of weeks — potentially leapfrogging AstraZeneca, a former frontrunner.
The company has pledged to provide 100 million doses of its shot to the U.S. later this year, after receiving $1.6 billion for development and manufacturing. It’s also one of a handful of manufacturers to promise significant deliveries worldwide, including 1.1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries like India, where cases are skyrocketing.
The next few months will determine whether Novavax can overcome its bumpy start and deliver on those increasingly high expectations. The company has enlisted production partners worldwide after struggling to scrape together the tens of thousands of doses needed for its clinical trials. Those hired factories are still getting up to speed with Novavax’s vaccine technology, which uses moth cells to brew batches of the coronavirus spike protein. In non-pandemic times, such retrofitting can take years. The company is aiming to pump out 150 million doses a month by the second half of the year.
“I do think it’s going to play a larger role,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. “In the short to medium term, at least, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has taken a reputational hit and people are more hesitant to take it. In addition, J&J has had major production problems at its Baltimore plant. And as a result I think Novavax is going to be a reasonably significant player.”
For the U.S., the Novavax shot could serve as an insurance policy in case supplies of the two mRNA vaccines — the workhorses of the country’s vaccination push — or the J&J shot falter. But many countries are not so fortunate. Thirty one percent of the billion vaccine doses administered worldwide have gone to North America, and just under 2 percent have gone to Africa.
The firm faces questions about how well its vaccine performs against key virus variants spreading worldwide. The Novavax shot was just 55.4 percent effective against the B.1.351 variant, first found in South Africa, during a mid-stage trial in that country. More data on the vaccine’s performance against different variants could be released when Novavax files for use in the U.S. or Europe.
While many experts see the nimble mRNA technology that underlies the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as the way of the future, Novavax executives maintain that it’s relatively simple to modify their vaccine to target different or multiple strains of the coronavirus.
They are banking on the likelihood that their shot, and many others, will be needed for years to come, as health officials seek boosters or variant-targeting edits to existing shots. “Everyone will need to be boosted,” said Glenn. “This is a viral respiratory disease, and we know from the flu that immunity from an infection is good for maybe 12 months, maybe 18 months, and after that people become susceptible again. After that, we’re going to have to boost.”
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Joliet Junior College
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
The SBA has completed rigorous testing and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal reopened on Saturday, April 24 at 12:30pm ET. Updated guidance documents have been posted below. Applicants may continue to register for an application portal account.
- FAQ regarding Shuttered Venue Operators Grant
- SVOG preliminary application checklist
- Cross-program eligibility on SBA COVID-19 relief options
- SVOG-specific version of IRS Form 4506-T
- SVOG applicant user guide
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