Mid to late March 2020 is the last time that our economy was fully open for business and now, 15 months later, we’re back to “normal.” Congratulations to all of you that have endured, pivoted (should be on the list of most used words in 2020), seen ups and downs, stood by your employees, etc. as the list can go on and on! This is truly yet another monumental day in this pandemic saga.
In state news today there has been a 2nd lawsuit filed over the redistricting process and a report out on how the state handled unemployment. On the federal side, child tax credit checks should begin rolling out and Moderna files for adolescent vaccine approval.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
More than a year later, Illinois is scheduled to fully reopen on Friday, marking an emotional turning point in the pandemic for many who have endured loss and a lack of connection in public life.
Among Friday’s milestones: The Cubs’ home game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field will mark the first time a Chicago baseball game will be played in front of a full crowd since the beginning of the pandemic.
What are the guidelines for phase 5 in Illinois? Though the city of Chicago and state have moved through different phases of curtailing and restoring activity since the initial stay-at-home order, Friday’s reopening also will be the first time there are no capacity restrictions or social distancing mandates for businesses and personal gatherings.
There were 366 new and probable cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and a seven-day statewide positivity rate of around 1%, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The health department is also reporting 764 people in hospitals with COVID-19, including 209 people in intensive care units and 103 people on ventilators, among the lowest counts since the pandemic began, according to a news release. That 1% number is the lowest since this all started 15 months back.
Meanwhile, about 50% of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and 60% have received at least one shot, according to data from the agency.
In phase five, there are no capacity limits for bars and restaurants, gyms, offices, salons, museums and other work, social and recreational venues.
Health departments in Illinois and Chicago don’t have any social distancing rules, but the state still encourages businesses to support social distancing. Businesses may also have their own rules for capacity, masking and social distancing. Some places aren’t rushing to reach 100% occupancies, citing the need to hire more employees and to feel out the comfort of customers.
Some entertainment venues said they plan to only slowly move toward 100% capacity. The nation’s largest move theater chain, AMC, will continue to block some seats. Major Chicago museums will likely gradually increase capacity over time, several told the Tribune. Masks are still required on public transportation, in airports, at schools, in hospitals and in some other congregate settings.
Celebrate and go visit fellow Chamber members today and this weekend if you haven’t already! Post your specials on social media for all to see and enjoy the return to normal.
Illinois Ranks 7th Worst for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Rollout
Illinois forced its self-employed and independent workers to wait an average of 48 days to receive federal benefits, according to an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. That was the seventh-slowest delivery of benefits in the nation.
The national Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was established in March 2020 to provide benefits to idled workers who did not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits, such as gig workers and the self-employed. Illinois had no mechanism in place to distribute the benefits and an outdated computer system.
The $22 million no-bid contract to improve the system and create a call center immediately exposed the Social Security numbers and other private information of nearly 32,500 unemployed Illinoisans. The system also left as many as 156,000 people awaiting callbacks about their benefits.
“This report is confirmation of the unrealistic expectations put on states at the onset of the pandemic and the difficulties all states faced implementing brand new federal programs in an extremely difficult timeframe,” a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Security responded in a statement to CBS 2. “We’re happy that USDOL OIG conducted this audit and recognizes the difficulty states had rolling out these programs, which have served as a vital economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Besides benefits for self-employed workers, federal benefits provided $600 a week extra for them and for traditional unemployed workers as well as an extra 13 weeks of benefits for workers whose benefits ran out. The audit found all states had trouble implementing at least one of the three programs.
On average, states took 38 days to make the first payment to the self-employed, 25 days to make the first $600 payment and 50 days to make the first payment to workers whose benefits expired. Illinois took 48 days to make the first self-employed payment, 10 days for the extra $600 and 25 days to deliver extended benefits. The federal audit stated delayed payments caused claimants to miss bill payments, deplete their savings, borrow at high interest rates, have difficulty putting food on the table and left some homeless.
At least $39 billion in CARES Act unemployment money was improperly paid and wasted nationwide by Jan. 2, 2021. That was about 10% of the total paid out. The audit found nearly $5.4 billion of those funds were lost to fraud. It also discovered 40% of states failed to conduct required benefit payment control crossmatches and 88% did not perform requested checks to detect and deter improper payments.
Ultimately, the audit faulted old systems, insufficient staff size and unclear guidance from the federal Employment and Training Administration. The administration provided $200 million to states to hire staff and improve fraud detection. “IDES is one of many states still quantifying a dollar amount attributable to identity theft-related fraud. This number is reportable to DOL and will be made available when that number has been identified,” the IDES spokesperson stated.
IDES has been plagued by problems and has left many frustrated during the COVID-19 economic downturn. Its offices have been closed to the public for more than 450 days as 16,455 calls were awaiting an answer on May 28. There were 422,093 Illinoisans still receiving unemployment benefits as of May 15.
2nd Lawsuit Filed for Illinois Remap
A second lawsuit has been filed to block new Illinois legislative districts, approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov J.B. Pritzker, this time by a major Hispanic group that calls remap “malapportioned.”
In an action filed here in U.S. District Court overnight, on behalf of several plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund contends the new maps improperly rely on American Community Survey data rather than waiting for delayed U.S. Census figures.
“Illinois voters, including the growing Latino voter community, are entitled to districts that accurately reflect the population,” Thomas Saenz, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund president and general counsel, said in statement. “Ultimately the General Assembly will have to redraw lines for the 2022 elections using the proper decennial census data.”
The detailed census count won’t be available until September, and Democrats who dominate Springfield did not want to wait so long, because that would trigger a clause in the Illinois Constitution allowing Republicans to have a seat at the table and potentially give them control.
“Under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14 Amendment of the United States Constitution, state legislative districts are required to be of substantially equal population,” the suit states. “This requirement is encompassed in the ‘one person, one vote’ standard. Under this standard, states must create legislative districts that are substantially equal in population.”
However, the ACS data is “inadequate for that purpose,” since that data may have undercounted the state’s population and relies on surveys that are in some cases several years old, rather than an actual population count in 2020.
The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund asks that a three-judge panel block use of the maps until results of the census are available and the districts are shown to meet constitutional standards. There was no immediate reaction from the Democrats. The plaintiffs named are the State Board of Elections, House Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon.
Child Tax Credit Checks
With the economy improving and job openings reported across the country, there are few signs of a fourth stimulus check hitting your bank account any time soon. But millions of American parents will be getting regular checks or deposits from the IRS starting next month. We now know the specific dates the Internal Revenue Service expects to send out child tax credit payments.
Earlier this week the IRS mailed out notifications to an estimated 38 million parents letting them know they are due for payment on or after July 15th. In the past, filers took the credit at tax time as one lump sum.
The American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year, increasing the existing maximum child tax credit to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 per kid for children between 6 and 17. It also set up a framework to prepay a portion of those funds over the final six months of 2021 through the IRS. According to the feds, roughly 39 million households will begin receiving checks next month, “without any further action required.”
The IRS says those payments will be scheduled to go out the 15th of each month unless that date falls on a weekend or federal holiday. That means these are the six dates we should expect payments to go out this year:
“Households covering more than 65 million children will receive the monthly CTC payments through direct deposit, paper check, or debit cards,” the IRS wrote in a press release last month.
The six payments will cover half of the proposed benefit for the year. That means most parents of a single child between 6 and 17 would see a $250 monthly check. Fully qualified parents of a child under 6 would be eligible for $300 from each check.
The remaining portion will be credited at tax filing time, as in previous years. The payments are fully refundable, meaning people may be eligible even to parents who do not owe taxes. The increased payments will phase out for higher income earners, including parents filing jointly who earn over $150,000.
If you would like to receive the full benefit at tax time rather than monthly, the IRS has one more date to keep in mind. The agency says they will launch a tool by July 1st allowing you to opt-out of the monthly payments in favor of a single credit. That portal will be made available on the IRS Child Tax Credit Advance Payment page.
Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine Submitted for Authorization in Adolescents
Moderna Inc. said Thursday it has asked U.S. health regulators to authorize the use of its Covid-19 shot in adolescents ages 12 to 17, setting up the potential availability of a second vaccine option for adolescents. The application means Moderna’s vaccine could be cleared for use in the older children this summer.
Moderna is seeking authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after releasing results of a study in May showing that the vaccine safely induced immune response in adolescents and appeared to be protective against Covid-19 disease. “We are encouraged that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine was highly effective at preventing Covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said.
The FDA could make a decision on Moderna’s request by early July if it follows the same kind of timetable it took with the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. The agency took about a month to clear Pfizer’s request for use of its Covid-19 vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds in May.
Moderna’s vaccine is currently authorized for use in adults ages 18 and older, as is one from Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer’s vaccine was initially cleared in people 16 years and older before the FDA expanded use.
Pfizer and Moderna also are studying their shots in children younger than age 12. The companies said this week initial results from that testing could be available by the fall. Positive results could clear the way for regulators to authorize use of the shots in younger children before the end of the year.
Moderna’s request is part of a wider push to expand the mass vaccination campaign to children, after initially focusing on adults. Though children have lower risk than adults of severe complications from Covid-19, infectious-disease specialists say some can develop serious illness. They say it’s important to vaccinate children to protect them individually, as well as build herd immunity that can allow everyone to return to a more normal life. About seven million adolescents have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Did you know that the American Rescue Plan extends a number of critical tax benefits, particularly the Employee Retention Credit and Paid Leave Credit, to small businesses?
Small Disadvantaged Business Contracting Goal News
On June 1, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies. Specifically, the Administration is expanding access to two key wealth-creators – small business ownership and homeownership – in communities of color and disadvantaged communities.
Federal Contracting Webinar Series
Do you need help with federal contracting? The ChallengeHER webinar series offers education and training on the federal contracting system. Below is a list of upcoming webinars.
8(a) Orientation Workshop/SAM Registration
This webinar will provide an overview of the 8(a) Business Development program, eligibility requirements, program benefits and training, steps to registering in the System for Award Management (SAM) database in order to do business with the federal government. Wednesday, June 16, 9:30 a.m.
CDC Mask 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
Governor Pritzker Mask Changes:
Finally, join us in June for our re-scheduled luncheon with Police Chief Dawn Malec and Fire Chief Greg Blaskey on Wednesday, June 16 at Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel. You may make reservations here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-member-lunch-june-16-meet-greet-with-joliet-police-fire-chiefs-6060
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry