If you haven’t heard yet, I80 construction is underway. Read below for details on what is happening. Today’s update also talks about an upgrade in bond rating for Illinois (1st in over two decades), state assistance for child care, state unemployment fraud, and of course the daily on infrastructure. Stay dry!
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I-80 Bridge Work has Started in Joliet
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced today that a $48 million project to replace the eastbound Interstate 80 bridges over Hickory Creek, Richards Street, Rowell Avenue/Canadian National Railroad, and westbound over Richards Street, in Joliet, Rockdale and New Lenox, will begin, weather permitting, Monday, June 28. The project is part of advance work leading to the $1.2 billion reconstruction of I-80 through Will County, a cornerstone of Gov. JB Pritzker’s historic, bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program.
“This project is about much more than replacing worn concrete and steel,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “It represents a significant investment in the Will County
area and is a big step forward in our work to improve safety, mobility and create economic opportunity for years to come. We’re asking drivers to be patient, slow down and pay extra
attention driving in and around any work zone.”
Overnight work will begin to install concrete barriers to prepare for the work zone. Motorists should expect lane shifts and lane closures on both sides of I-80, between Chicago and Briggs streets, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 p.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday. At least two lanes in each direction will remain open. Daytime traffic will not be impacted.
Motorists can expect delays and should allow extra time for trips through this area. Drivers are
urged to pay close attention to flaggers and signs in the work zones, obey the posted speed limits
and be on the alert for workers and equipment.
As of Monday, June 28, both eastbound and westbound I-80 traffic will have shifted onto the right shoulders and new temporary pavement. The first stage of the project will consist of building new bridges, pavement, and a concrete barrier wall in the middle of I-80 from Gardner Street to west of Briggs Street. Two lanes in each direction will be maintained throughout construction. The eastbound I-80 ramp to Richards Street will close briefly during the second stage of construction, anticipated in late 2021/early 2022.
The existing bridges were built in the 1960s and are reaching the end of their useful life. The
project, which includes replacing the existing four bridges with new wider structures, installing
new signage and modernized LED lights, reconstructing, and widening eastbound I-80 from
Gardner Street to Rowell Avenue, is expected to be completed late 2022. Once the eastbound bridges are nearing completion, focus will turn to the bridges in the westbound directions.
The eventual replacement of the Des Plaines River bridges and larger improvements to I-80 in Will County are made possible by Governor Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois bipartisan capital plan,
which will invest $33.2 billion in transportation infrastructure across all modes throughout the
state. The estimated $1.2 billion project is included in IDOT’s current FY22-27 Multi-Year
Program with a start date dependent on plan readiness and ongoing land acquisition.
The project will reconstruct 16 miles of I-80, from Ridge Road in Minooka to U.S. 30 in Joliet
and New Lenox, while adding or extending auxiliary lanes to improve safety and reduce
congestion, as well as improving interchanges at I-55, Illinois 7, Center Street, U.S. 52/Illinois
53, Richards Street and Briggs Street.
For more information on IDOT projects, click here. Find traffic and road conditions at
www.gettingaroundillinois.com. You also can follow IDOT on Facebook and Twitter.
Illinois Receives First Bond Rating Upgrade in Over 20 Years
For the first time in more than 20 years, Illinois’ debt has been upgraded by one of the major rating agencies. In a statement on Tuesday, Moody’s Investors Service moved Illinois’ general obligation debt from Baa3 to Baa2. The same upgrade applied to sales-tax debt floated by the McCormick Place owner Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, known as McPier, whose income is partially dependent on state finances.
“The enacted fiscal 2022 budget for the state increases pension contributions, repays emergency Federal Reserve borrowings and keeps a backlog of bills in check with only constrained use of federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act,” the New York-based firm said. “Illinois still faces longer-term challenges from unusually large unfunded pension liabilities, which are routinely shortchanged under the state’s funding statute. These liabilities could exert growing pressure as the impact of federal support dissipates, barring significant revenue increases or other fiscal changes.”
The ratings upgrade was immediately hailed by Gov. J.B Pritzker, who surely will find it of use in his anticipated upcoming run for re-election. The state’s credit rating has been declining for many years, but particularly dropped off amid a budget standoff during the tenure of the man Pritzker unseated as governor, Bruce Rauner.
“I promised to restore fiscal stability to Illinois, and Moody’s ratings upgrade demonstrates that Illinois’ finances are heading in the right direction for the first time in two decades,” he said in a statement. “A ratings upgrade pays momentous dividends for taxpayers, and the people of Illinois deserve credit for their incredible resilience and determination.”
Moody’s itself had not upgraded Illinois debt since June of 1998, nearly a quarter of a century ago. Other major ratings agencies in recent weeks have changed their outlook on Illinois debt to positive, but stopped short of an actual upgrade.
Senate President Don Harmon, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Comptroller Susana Mendoza all are out with statements pretty much saying that Illinois is back, thanks to strong leadership.
Gov. Pritzker Announces Significant Expansion of Financial Assistance for Families Seeking Child Care and Providers
Building on his commitment to making Illinois the leading state in the country for families raising young children, Governor JB Pritzker today announced a significant expansion of financial assistance for both families and providers that allow children to return to quality, affordable child care programs. Eighty percent of families will pay less for child care under this latest round of changes, to be administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
“When I took office, I said that we are aiming to make Illinois the best state in the nation for families raising young children. Today, I’m proud to announce another important step in that direction. We are making a series of new investments to make childcare more affordable for Illinois families, and deliver more dollars to providers,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We’re ensuring quality childcare is accessible for more people – allowing more people to return to work without worry about where their kids will go during the day and helping Illinois’ childcare network rebuild after the last 16 months.”
Beginning July 1, DHS will facilitate the following improvements:
• Reducing family payments: Family payments or copayments — the monthly amount parents are required to pay to childcare providers for the cost of their child care — will be permanently lowered to $1 per month for families with incomes at or below 100% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL). 80% of all families will see a reduction in their monthly co-pay.
• Preserving co-pay percentage limits: Family payments will remain permanently capped at 7% of family income, with co-pays for 80% of families falling below that rate.
• Helping families as income grows: Going forward, CCAP families will now remain eligible until the family’s income surpasses 250% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), instead of the current cap of 225%. The income thresholds to be eligible for and to remain on the Child Care Assistance Program have been updated to current FPL and State Median Income (SMI) amounts. Payments will increase from there on a sliding scale based on family income. These improvements allow families more flexibility as people begin to return to work and rebuild from the financial impact of the COVID 19 pandemic.
• Increasing reimbursement rates by 3.5% for all CCAP providers to help providers keep their doors open and fully recover from the pandemic.
• Improving predictability for providers: If a child receiving CCAP attends at least 70% of eligible days in a month, providers will be paid for the full month. The previous policy required an 80% attendance rate. This change will allow for more stable payments for providers in the event of occasional absences.
“The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an acute child care crisis. Working parents lost care and child-care workers found themselves without jobs. Parents, mostly mothers, left jobs or reduced hours to fill the gap. Child care is the work that enables all other work; child care allows parents to work while their children experience the myriad of benefits that come from high-quality early care and education and I’m pleased to work with Governor Pritzker to provide this much needed relief,” said Grace B. Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services.
“Child care is essential to working families, and our recovery and growth as a state. These actions will help keep child care affordable for families and providers’ doors open. As advocates and providers, we celebrate these actions from the Governor, which continue to prioritize children, families, and the providers that support them,” said April Janney, President & CEO of Illinois Action for Children.
IDHS’ Child Care Assistance Program provides low-income, working families with access to affordable, quality child care that allows them to continue working and contributes to the healthy, social and emotional development of the child. Families can stay connected with the program on the Child Care Assistance Program Facebook page or at the IDHS website.
How Illinois Failed to Stop a Flood of Unemployment Fraud During the Pandemic
Records obtained by the Chicago Tribune show the flood of fraud happened after IDES failed to follow federal recommendations to adopt free fraud-fighting tools that were made available in 2019. Only recently did the agency begin using those tools. A separate process to help identify problematic claims also didn’t become fully functional until February, nearly a year into the pandemic.
At the same time, Illinois has not joined some other states in implementing safeguards meant to detect and stop sketchy claims at the door, before they are accepted into an overburdened system. Though critics say these methods can cause problems by interfering with legitimate claims, some officials in other states credit them with significantly decreasing fraud. The Illinois Department of Employment Security has yet to report how much money it believes was siphoned away. But if the amount tracks with national estimates, it could involve billions of dollars.
In Illinois, the fraud became so rampant last year that it overwhelmed IDES as its top leadership was undergoing a transition. Five months into her new job as IDES’ top administrator, Kristin Richards lamented to her staff in a December email that she was “stunned by fraudsters’ tenacity.”
In written responses to questions, IDES defended its work. The agency has noted that its already lean staff had to work even harder to expand programs and process new claims. And it said other states have struggled, too. “It is important to understand that these fraudsters are not your run-of-the-mill criminals; these are highly sophisticated individuals and networks, running international fraud schemes to defraud each state’s unemployment insurance program,” an IDES spokesperson wrote in an email.
IDES said it’s gotten better at detecting fraud, but it also called for federal officials “to provide guidance and ideally, universal solutions” to state officials who have had to figure out anti-fraud tactics on an “ad hoc basis during a crisis.” In the meantime, fraud victims continue to surface.
Trying to catch up
State employees also had to confront fake claims filed under their names, some of them repeatedly. At times, the IDES anti-fraud system assumed the employees themselves were the thieves and began asking the state comptroller to garnish their wages, officials acknowledged.
The comptroller’s office said it was able to reverse the process, but mounting frustration can be seen in emails that IDES gave the Tribune under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. In a December email chain, one sender complained her agency had discovered 26 fake claims that day involving that agency’s workers, on top of 11 the prior day, and 185 in all. Some were filed using the same identities IDES had previously been told were stolen. “I was under the impression that IDES had put some dedicated resources to preventing this,” the sender wrote.
As the email was forwarded up the chain, another unnamed state agency complained that tracking its problems with IDES had become “nearly a full-time job.” Richards responded that her agency was “trying to catch what we can, as quickly as we can” but there were “several reasons that we are unable to stop all claims before payment is made.”
She didn’t elaborate on the reasons in the email, and IDES did not offer specifics except to say it can be difficult to stop fraud in ways that also don’t slow down payments to legitimate filers.
Some states have implemented front-end checks that seek to vet people’s identities based on the type of techniques financial institutions use. Kansas, for example, has a system that requires two-factor authentication — where applicants have to type in codes sent by email or text — as well as identity verification, which tries to screen out identity thieves by seeing if people can answer questions in a way that matches information drawn from their credit reports.
Such systems can be controversial, with complaints that some legitimate filers get denied by an algorithm and then struggle to reach an agency to clear up the confusion. But states have credited the measures with notably reducing fraud.
“A stronger front door was absolutely what we needed,” said Ryan Wright, the Kansas Department of Labor’s deputy chief of staff. “This almost overnight eliminated those (false claims) because we were stopping people on the front end.”
IDES didn’t take similar steps, but in February of this year — deep into the pandemic — it began running pending claim data through a subscription service that ranks claims by their likelihood of being fraudulent. That helps IDES’ fraud investigators prioritize claims to review. More recently, IDES contracted with two national security firms to provide additional vetting of claims, including using some of the Integrity Data Hub tools.
IDES said it hopes the U.S. Department of Labor will develop a broader national strategy to fight unemployment fraud. (Some Democrats in Congress have proposed developing national cybersecurity standards for state systems as part of a broader modernization effort.)
“What states really need is tech expertise from (the Labor Department) for assistance with this,” the IDES spokesperson said in email. “This is an international crime problem, and states have engaged various vendor solutions and enrolled in (Integrity Data Hub), but in an ad hoc basis during a crisis.”
How much was lost?
IDES has said it stopped 2 million fake claims last year. But the agency says it doesn’t yet know how many got through, and how much money was stolen. In a November news conference, Richards told reporters her agency was working to quantify those figures. She told lawmakers the same thing this spring. The IDES spokesperson said it again this month, eight months after the news conference.
IDES notes that many states have yet to release similar figures. But some have, including California and Kansas. Beyond that, IDES did not provide documents and data sought by the Tribune that could shed light on the scope of the problem. Some states that have released figures did so after a state audit. Illinois lawmakers could order one but haven’t. State unemployment agencies also must report fraud data to the U.S. Department of Labor. But Illinois is among the states that missed their deadlines to do so.
One hint may come from a record IDES sent to the IRS, which the Tribune pushed IDES to release. The state agency has to tell federal tax collectors how much money was paid out in unemployment benefits, so the IRS knows how much income taxpayers should be claiming. According to a separate report from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, IDES reported paying out $21.4 billion in unemployment claims in 2020. IDES later told the IRS it paid out $19.7 billion in claims after adjusting for known fraudulent payments. The difference is $1.7 billion.
IDES cautioned that figure likely doesn’t represent the true scope of the fraud but said it’s still figuring out the correct number. One complication is that some fraud may go undetected because no one filed a complaint. The agency said it couldn’t comment on individual cases but said that, in general, it takes time to untangle which claims are real and which are fake.
White House mounts full-court press on infrastructure deal
The White House is mounting an all-out effort to sell the bipartisan infrastructure deal President Biden and a group of senators agreed to last week, deploying top administration officials to states and engaging lawmakers to help build support inside and outside Washington for the package.
Biden in a speech in Wisconsin on Tuesday touted the $1.2 bipartisan infrastructure deal, describing the compromise as proof that American democracy can function and saying it would create good-paying blue-collar jobs if passed by Congress.
“I know that neither the Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted in this deal, it’s not all that I proposed but that’s what our economy is all about. That’s what it means to compromise and reach consensus. And that’s what’s in the heart of every democracy,” Biden said. He added that Democrats and Republicans can’t give up on finding ways to come together.
“Every time we negotiate in good faith and come together and get something big done, we break a little more of the ice that too often keeps us frozen in place and prevents us from solving real problems for the people of this country,” he said at the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility.
The Biden deal with GOP and Democratic senators has come under criticism from the right and the left. Democrats are worried passage of the bipartisan deal make it harder to pass a larger package of Democratic spending priorities on climate change, health care, education and other issues. Democrats want to move that package through budget reconciliation rules that would avoid a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
But the party would need all 50 Democratic senators to back the larger plan, and centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) want to see the bipartisan deal move forward. Both have expressed reservations about the larger bill, though it is also possible both could end up supporting it in some form.
Biden said he will continue to fight for his broader agenda during his Wisconsin speech. But his focus was on the bipartisan deal, and his address was just one part of a broader effort taken by the administration to sell the deal.
White House officials on Monday spoke with dozens of lawmakers and chiefs of staff in both parties, press secretary Jen Psaki said, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Top aides, including Biden adviser Steve Ricchetti, legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell and deputy legislative affairs director Shuwanza Goff were dispatched Tuesday to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the infrastructure framework.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, one of a handful of Cabinet officials leading outreach efforts at the local level on infrastructure, spent Monday and Tuesday in New York state touring infrastructure projects in need of federal funding. Buttigieg visited Syracuse alongside Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday. They went to I-81, an interstate highway built decades ago that bisected the city and led to income disparities in neighboring communities. The future of the highway, which is in disrepair, has been the subject of debate for years. “When people talk about ‘the wrong side of town,’ they’re often literally talking about a highway or a set of tracks that has served to keep a community segregated,” Buttigieg tweeted. “It’s on us to right the wrongs of the past.”
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm spent the day in New York City to highlight new charging stations installed there. The administration has pushed for charging stations and investments in electric vehicles to be a cornerstone of infrastructure spending in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.
President Biden is also doing his part to build public support for the bipartisan infrastructure package, including penning an op-ed in Yahoo News on Monday and reiterating many of its themes in the speech in La Crosse the following day.
“Neither Democrats nor Republicans got everything they wanted in this agreement. But that’s what it means to compromise and reach consensus — the very heart of democracy,” Biden wrote. “When we negotiate in good faith, and come together to get big things done, we begin to break the ice that too often has kept us frozen in place and prevented us from solving the real problems Americans face.”
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Webinar: PPP Forgiveness and other COVID-19 Relief Programs, including Employee Retention Credit
Wed., Jun. 30, 2021, 12:00 PM ET
Presented by: Elizabeth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel, Legal Foundation, NFIB, Holly Wade, Executive Director, Research Center, NFIB
Join this FREE webinar to hear NFIB’s payroll protection program (PPP) loan experts Beth Milito and Holly Wade explain the PPP loan forgiveness process from the due date of the initial forgiveness application to preparation of Forms 3508, 3508EZ, or 3508S along with required supporting documentation needed to achieve full forgiveness. Listen and learn:
The webinar will also cover interplay between the employee retention credit (ERC) and PPP loan forgiveness and EIDL updates. We’ll conclude the webinar with LIVE Q&A to answer your PPP, ERC, FFCRA, and EIDL questions.
Special Presentation: Small Business Compliance with Department of Labor
The chamber recently joined with Andres Mendez, a Benefits Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division and the Employee Benefits Security Administration for an overview of the COBRA premium assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, federal wage and hour laws, and how they are enforced.
Click here to view the special presentation: https://youtu.be/n5tWXm1BDyE
Connect with the Workforce Center
Visit the Workforce Center of Will County’s web page for more information about the programs, services, and activities available for Will County businesses and residents.
Small Business Tax Credit Programs
|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.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry