Another day of big news as Governor Pritzker issues statement announcing full alignment with the CDC on mask guidance. Along with that, some information is below on takeaways from the somewhat unexpected announcement last week. The state also has found out it should receive about $600 million more in federal funds and that there are improved revenue estimates for the state.
Also, it sounds like Illinois will not be making any changes to the $300 a week bump in unemployment insurance payments any time soon. However, the secret service is sending back some funds from unemployment fraud. Finally, there is information towards the end about an assistance program for landlords and housing providers.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Governor Pritzker Aligns Illinois Mask Guidance with CDC
Following guidance from the CDC that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing a mask and practicing social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health have announced that Illinois will align state executive orders with the latest CDC guidance and rescind IDPH emergency rules enforcing masking and distance.
The CDC continues to require masks for everyone in healthcare settings, in congregate settings and on transit. In addition, in line with CDC guidance, the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health require masks in schools. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services requires masks in daycare.
“Getting vaccinated is the ultimate protection from COVID-19 and the quickest ticket back to normal life,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “With public health experts now saying fully vaccinated people can safely remove their masks in most settings, I’m pleased to follow the science and align Illinois’ policies with the CDC’s guidance. I also support the choice of individuals and businesses to continue to mask out of an abundance of caution as this pandemic isn’t over yet.”
“While the updated guidance from the CDC is welcome news, let me remind everyone that this guidance is only for those people who are fully vaccinated,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Individuals who do not have the protection afforded by one of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines should still wear a mask. While more than 64% of adults in Illinois have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, we need to increase that number. To slow down disease spread and the development of even more deadly variants, we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated.”
The Governor is issuing an updated executive order to remove the mask requirement for fully vaccinated people in most settings, and the Illinois Department of Public Health is rescinding emergency rules in the Control of Communicable Disease Code that enforce masking and distancing for vaccinated people in business settings. In line with CDC guidance, individuals who are unvaccinated should continue wearing masks in most settings and both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals should continue to wear masks on public transportation, in congregate facilities, and in healthcare settings.
As of today, more than 4.6 million Illinoisans are fully vaccinated — 58% of residents 16+, 64% of residents 18+ and 86% of residents 65+.
LATEST CDC GUIDANCE
The CDC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to take preventive measures, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In their latest guidance, the CDC now reports that indoor and outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people and that fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to unvaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated people can:
• Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
• Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
• Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
• Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
• Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
• Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
• Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
• Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations
Five Takeaways from New CDC Guidance on Masks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) announcement Thursday that vaccinated people can go without masks in most settings is likely to accelerate a return to normalcy in the U.S. But the new guidelines caught most Americans off guard and prompted questions and some notes of caution before returning to pre-pandemic habits.
Here are five takeaways from the announcement:
COVID-19 crisis phase shows signs of ending
Masks, at least in many areas of the U.S., were a constant sign of the pandemic’s presence, from walking down the street to going to the grocery store. “Masks have been one of the most visible reminders of the threat of the pandemic,” said Josh Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Now, with the CDC’s guidance that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, “It can be, I’m sure, shocking at first for many people, but it’s also a reminder that, yes, we will come out on the other side of this,” Michaud said.
Experts generally expect the virus will not be totally eliminated anytime soon, in part because some people can’t or won’t get vaccinated. Instead, it could fade into the background as a manageable risk, not something that dominates daily life.
Some experts applauded the CDC’s announcement, while others said they thought it came a bit too soon, given that case rates will be lower in a few weeks as more people get shots. “At some point we are going to have to move past coronavirus and start living normally again,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CNBC, noting how effective the vaccines are.
On the other hand, Bob Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, said the guidance could have been somewhat more measured. “I would not have thought they would take away the indoor mask requirement quite this soon and not have it somehow linked to the prevalence [of the virus] in your community,” he said.
Decisions shift to businesses
The country will not be immediately free from all mask requirements, though, even for vaccinated people. The CDC’s announcement puts a new burden on each business to decide whether they want to require masks, and some states still have requirements in place.
That could lead to neighboring stores having different policies. Trader Joe’s, for example, said Friday that customers who are fully vaccinated did not need to wear masks while shopping. Target and Home Depot, on the other hand, said they are still requiring masks for now.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents many major retailers, lamented that the CDC guidance in some cases conflicts with state rules, putting “retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations” and creating “ambiguity.” The United Food and Commercial Workers union warned of the impact on front-line workers “who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks.”
Vaccine passport debate could reignite
One way for some businesses to try to navigate the new CDC guidelines is to require customers to show proof of vaccination, or a “vaccine passport.” A theater, for example, could seek to assuage the fears of audience members by saying everyone at a show must verify they are vaccinated. But doing so carries risks. The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed that the federal government is not going to be issuing vaccine passports. That means varying efforts across the country could create confusion. “There’s going to be a patchwork of different approaches,” Michaud said.
New York State had already taken steps to create a verification stored on a smartphone or printed out, and other states could follow. Some Republican governors, however, have taken steps against vaccine passports. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law prohibiting private businesses from using them. “I believe businesses should be strongly considering vaccine authentication, vaccine passports,” Wachter said, though he acknowledged it’s “a hard decision politically, a hard decision operationally.”
Uncertainty for children under 12
While the CDC says fully vaccinated people do not need masks, other than in a few settings such as public transportation, there is one group that currently does not even have the option of getting vaccinated: children. Vaccines are not yet authorized for anyone under 12.
That has led to an odd situation where many adults, including parents, could be unmasked, while children, even though they are at lower-risk of serious illness from COVID-19, would still be recommended to wear masks.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has called on the CDC to update its guidance affecting children following Thursday’s mask announcement, including changing summer camp guidance that has been controversial for requiring children to wear masks even when they’re outdoors. “I do think it’s a glaring gap in the guidance,” Michaud said of how to handle precautions for young children.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a press briefing Thursday that the agency would be working to update its guidance on schools and camps, but did not provide specifics. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children should keep wearing masks. “Until younger children are eligible to be vaccinated for the COVID-19 vaccine, they should continue to wear face masks when they are in public and around other people,” said Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the group’s Committee on Infectious Diseases.
Some people may choose to still be cautious
The CDC guidance says people can stop wearing masks if they are fully vaccinated, but it doesn’t say they have to go maskless. Different people will have different risk tolerances. Others have compromised immune systems that make them more vulnerable.
For vaccinated people, “the risk is low; it’s not zero, and so individuals are going to have to make choices,” Wachter said. “Going into a crowded bar with poor ventilation is not that important to me,” he said, noting that the risk calculation will also change as case rates decline further across the country.
On the other end of the spectrum, some Americans have not been wearing a mask the whole time. “Also if you want to keep wearing a mask, that’s cool too,” tweeted White House director of digital strategy Rob Flaherty. “Do what’s comfortable!”
Illinois Set to Receive $600 Million More in Federal Stimulus Funds
State government appears on track to receive $600 million more in federal stimulus funds than originally expected, and state tax revenues are on the upswing as the economy recovers during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Democratic leaders in the General Assembly said Thursday the state still will have to deal with a $1.3 billion deficit in the next fiscal year.
As a result, they said more than $900 million in potential savings suggested by Gov. JB Pritzker through the elimination of specific tax breaks remains on the table in budget negotiations as the legislature approaches the May 31 end of its regular spring session.
Those potential savings would help offset state government’s projected $1.3 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, the Democratic lawmakers said. “This remains a very fluid and ongoing process,” said state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, chairman of the House Revenue and Finance Committee.
House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told reporters at a Statehouse news conference that the latest information from federal officials indicates Illinois state government will receive $8.1 billion in stimulus funds, not $7.5 billion as initially reported. The money is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
State officials continue to negotiate with the federal government on whether the funds can be used to pay off COVID-19-related debt, Harris said. Initial reports indicated debt repayment would be barred with federal stimulus funds, but Harris said that detail hasn’t been finalized and could change over the next 60 days. The Democratic governor and leaders in the Democratic-controlled state House and Senate had hoped the state could use the stimulus funds to pay off $3.6 billion that Illinois borrowed from the federal treasury in 2020 to keep state government operating at the height of the pandemic.
It appears the federal government will allow much of the $8.1 billion to be spent by the state over a four-year period, Harris said. State officials are considering making a $690 million first-installment repayment on the federal loan this year, he said.
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget on Thursday said it expects the state to receive more revenue for its general fund — $1.47 billion more for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and $842 million more for fiscal 2022 — compared with estimates published with Pritzker’s introduced budget in February 2021.
However, Harris and Zalewski said the additional federal stimulus funds and indications that the state’s economy is recovering quicker as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes don’t mean Pritzker’s proposed repeal of certain tax breaks for companies can be abandoned. Harris noted that Pritzker now agrees with Democratic leaders that $350 million in spending needs to be added to the fiscal 2022 budget to boost the school-aid formula. And $296 million more needs to be appropriated for the Medicaid program to deal with pandemic-related medical expenses for low-income residents, Harris said.
Governor’s Office of Management & Budget Issues Revised, Improved Revenue Estimates
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget revised upward its General Funds revenue estimates by $1.469 billion for fiscal year 2021 and by $842 million for fiscal year 2022, compared to the estimates published with the Governor’s introduced budget in February 2021.
Strong year-to-date receipts in the state’s main revenue sources (individual and corporate income tax and sales tax) have led GOMB to revise its estimates. Through April, fiscal year 2021 General Funds revenues were outperforming revenue estimates from the February estimates by about 5 percent.
“While the increase in revenues is good news, and a sign our economy is coming out of the pandemic, much of these funds are one-time in nature and should not be expected to recur in FY2022,” said Deputy Governor Dan Hynes. “The administration was pleased to propose last week that we increase the state’s education budget for the coming year, using these funds and our proposal to end $1 billion in corporate welfare. However, the pandemic is still with us, and we have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure the state remains on sound fiscal footing, including repaying the federal government for loans used to cover current coronavirus expenses.”
Total General Funds state revenues for fiscal year 2021 are now estimated at $36.703 billion, compared to $35.311 billion in February, with total revenues, including federal sources, estimated at $44.949 billion. Total General Funds state revenues for fiscal year 2022 are now estimated at $35.283 billion, compared to $34.589 billion in February, with total revenues, including federal sources and the governor’s proposed closure of corporate tax loopholes, estimated at $42.552 billion.
The one-time sources of revenue include the double final income tax payments receipted in fiscal year 2021, and the tax receipt benefits from economic activity following individual stimulus payments and a full year of enhanced unemployment benefits throughout fiscal year 2021. Expanded unemployment benefits are currently only extended through September 2021, early in fiscal year 2022.
The resilience of the state’s economy and the continued impacts to the state from stimulus payments to taxpayers by the federal government and extended enhanced unemployment benefits led to the changed forecasts. The revisions were published in GOMB’s April 2021 Report to the Legislative Budget Oversight Commission (LBOC). The full report is available here.
Governor Pritzker Won’t Cut Enhanced COVID Unemployment Benefits as Employers Claim Workforce Shortage
Unemployed Illinoisans will keep receiving an extra $300 in pandemic-enhanced weekly benefits, Gov. JB Pritzker said, even as Republican-led states around the nation move to end those benefits early, claiming they’re disincentivizing working-aged people from getting jobs. “Our job here is to make sure we’re creating jobs and helping people to rebuild the lives they had before the pandemic, and so we’re not going to pull the rug out from under people,” Pritzker told reporters.
The governor’s comments came a few hours before one of the state’s leading business groups representing employers sent Pritzker a letter asking for an early end to the boosted unemployment benefits, which are set to expire Sept. 6. In his letter, Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Mark Denzler cited data from the state’s Department of Employment Security showing approximately 358,800 fewer Illinoisans in the state’s workforce in March versus March 2020, when the pandemic began. Denzler attributes this labor shortage to the extra $300 in weekly COVID unemployment benefits, which means an individual with no dependents in Illinois can receive the equivalent of more than $19 an hour.
“We simply cannot allow able-bodied workers to remain on the sidelines when there are hundreds of thousands of jobs available,” Denzler wrote. “While the added federal benefits clearly served a purpose…Illinois’ economy will not fully return to normal when conditions favor a refusal to return to work.”
Since early on during the pandemic, Illinoisans seeking unemployment benefits haven’t had to adhere to the state’s usual requirement that they must be actively seeking full-time work. Pritzker last year issued an executive order waiving that requirement, and Denzler told NPR Illinois the waiver was necessary when many businesses were shut down for the first several months of the pandemic and workers suffered mass layoffs and was still reasonable as the economy stalled as COVID wore on. But now that more than 57% Illinois’ population 16 and over have gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and businesses are desperate to hire workers, Denzler said it’s time to end that exception.
Not all economists and researchers, however, agree with Denzler and the Republican governors’ thesis that unemployment benefits are disincentivizing people from returning to work. Beth Gutelius, research director of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois – Chicago, said the argument about generous unemployment benefits preventing people from getting jobs is “thinly veiled” sentiment similar to long-debunked theories that individuals on welfare are “lazy.”
Gutelius, who has spent years researching warehouse workers in particular, says people are running up against long-running systemic problems in the American economy. Gutelius told NPR Illinois she believes workers from all backgrounds in recent years — but especially during the pandemic — have opened their eyes to three issues: jobs that offer wages so low they’re unlivable, lack of affordable childcare and lack of paid leave at many jobs, especially low-wage employment.
Secret Service Seizes $2 Billion in Fraudulent Covid Unemployment Payments
The Secret Service has confiscated and returned to states about $2 billion in stolen Covid unemployment relief funds, agency officials said Wednesday. Programs in at least 30 states received the money after the agency determined recipients had fraudulently applied for pandemic-related unemployment.
“This is typical of the cyber fraud we deal with annually. It’s just compounded based on additional funds (from) Covid relief,” Roy Dotson, Secret Service assistant special agent in charge, told CNBC. “The criminals did take full advantage of the programs to try to steal from them.” He said the $2 billion returned to the states was a “conservative estimate” and that pandemic-related fraud investigations are ongoing. He said last year that the Secret Service sent advisories to financial institutions to flag possibly fraudulent accounts where the money may have been deposited. Dotson said fraudsters typically stole the identities of people who qualified for unemployment benefits. In other cases, he said, identities were stolen from people who hadn’t even filed for unemployment.
The fast rollout of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program made it easy prey for fraudsters. The Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, in a report released in March, said that at least $89 billion of the estimated $896 billion in unemployment program funds “could be paid improperly, with a significant portion attributable to fraud.” The Labor Department has said it would work with the Secret Service, the Justice Department, and other agencies “to vigorously pursue those who defraud the unemployment insurance program and safeguard benefits intended for unemployed workers.”
The Secret Service also announced that it has seized more than $640 million in funds defrauded primarily from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. It opened some 690 unemployment insurance investigations and 720 investigations related to those two programs.
Illinois Rental Payment Program Launches Today for Landlords & Housing Providers
Will County in partnership with the Illinois Housing Development Authority will launch the Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP) today, Monday, May 17, 2021. ILRPP provides Emergency Rental Assistance grants up to $25,000 to landlords and housing providers with income-eligible tenants falling behind in their rent (30 days or more) due to COVID-19. This one-time grant program covers past due rent from June 2020 through August 2021 for each income-eligible tenant.
To apply for this grant, a landlord/housing provider and their tenant must both submit information into a web portal to create an application. This joint application process will confirm rent arrearage/owed, household income, residential address, and other required information. Tenants must also submit proof of adverse COVID-19 impact and household income to verify eligibility. Priority will be given to unemployed applicants, and those with households falling at or below 50% of the Adjusted Median Income (AMI).
Community Service Agencies are available to assist both landlords and tenants with filing their on-line applications and guiding them through the process. For a list of ILRPP local service agencies, and all other information concerning emergency rental assistance benefits, including multi language flyers, brochures, FAQs, and a marketing tool kit, please visit: www.willcountyillinois.org and www.ILRPP.IHDA.org or call (815) 280-7675.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Will County Announces Round 3 of CARES Act Funding
Will County is pleased to announce Round 3 of the CARES Act Small Business Grant Program for Will County businesses adversely impacted by the recent pandemic. All small businesses physically located in Will County able to demonstrate COVID-19 impact are encouraged to apply for these grants of up to $10,000. The following criteria must be met to determine eligibility:
• Have not received a previous Will County Small Business Grant
• Annual revenues under $5 Million in 2020
• Less than 50 full time employees in 2020
• In operation since February 15, 2020, or earlier
• Have proof of COVID-19 impact
• In good standing with the IRS, State of Illinois, and Will County
• Not currently in bankruptcy
For more information and to apply visit: www.willcountyillinois.com/COVIDbizgrant
All required documents must be included and uploaded with each application. This is a requirement to expedite the review of eligibility and determine approval for the grant monies. Priority will be given to businesses located in the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Disproportionately Impacted Area (DIA). DIA zip codes in Will County include: 60432, 60435, 60436, 60466, and 60471.
Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund
SBA began accepting applications via the application portal Monday 5/3 at 11 AM. The application portal will remain open to any eligible establishment until all funds are exhausted.
In preparation, qualifying applicants should familiarize themselves with the application process in advance to ensure a smooth and efficient application. Follow the steps below.
- If you haven’t already, register for an account on the application portal at restaurants.sba.gov. If you are working with Square or Toast, you do not need to register.
- Review the sample application, program guide and cross-program eligibility chart on SBA COVID-19 relief options. SBA also added screenshots of the application portal that are available here.
- Applications must be submitted in English or Spanish. SBA has documents in additional languages to help you understand eligibility requirements, fill out applications, and answer frequently asked questions. See the additional languages and materials here.
- If you were unable to attend one of the webinars held last week which covered program details and a demonstration of the application portal, you can watch the recording here.
For more information, visit sba.gov/restaurants.
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
Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program
As of May 6, 2021, funding for the Paycheck Protection Program has been exhausted. The SBA will continue funding outstanding approved PPP applications, but new qualifying applications will only be funded through Community Financial Institution, financial lenders who serve underserved communities
Finally, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and her team want to check in with you, our members to hear about your experience during COVID-19 and federal relief programs. Her office has developed a short survey to allow businesses in the 14th District of Illinois to provide feedback to Congresswoman Underwood about their experience with COVID-19 federal relief programs for businesses including PPP, EIDL, Shuttered Venue, and Restaurant Revitalization Fund; how federal relief programs have benefitted the local small business community; and what assistance they continue to need going forward. The survey can be found here.
We know that a great majority of you do not fit into the 14th District, but there is a sliver and I’m sure they won’t mind the extra feedback even from those out of district since they’ve asked. The survey deadline is May 26 by 6:00 p.m. CT.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry