Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Let’s hope that we don’t have to go back and resume the daily coronavirus updates. It is however getting to the point to talk about issues again rather than tuck them away. So today we mix in a little news on masks and vaccines in addition to some movement on the federal front for infrastructure.
Some important reminders first though:
Participation has picked up a little, but still we need more voices to share what you’re experiencing out there running your business. More importantly, our elected officials need to hear what conditions are and to date, we’re only about a third of the way to desired results/feedback. We’re asking all to please click on the link below for an important survey regarding the current state of business in a mid-year 2021 check in. This feedback is extremely important so that we can use this in conversations going forward on what type of programs and assistance would be best as all continue to recover from the pandemic.
Add Monday, August 16 to your calendars as we host our quarterly “Legislative Coffee” with U.S. Representatives Bill Foster, Lauren Underwood, and Marie Newman. We’ll cover topics such as the budget, infrastructure, taxes, the recent executive order, and more. We’ll begin at 8 am and discuss through 9:30 at the Joliet City Hall Council Chambers. We hope you can join us and thank CITGO for being our coffee series sponsor. Here is the rsvp & info link: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-legislative-coffee-series-august-16th-with-u-s-representatives-foster-underwood-newman-6082
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
Snapshot of Mask and Vaccine News
The CDC reversed course Tuesday, two months after telling us (i.e. the vaccinated) that it was OK to be maskless, updating guidance for fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors if they live in areas with significant or high spread. They also recommended that K-12 schools adopt universal masking for teachers, staff, students and visitors regardless of vaccination status. The new guidance is aimed at people who live in places with high or substantial transmission of the virus. The CDC updated its guidelines because new data on the Delta variant show that so-called breakthrough infections for fully vaccinated people, though rare, carry a similar level of viral load as infections among the unvaccinated.
Expect this to get politicized quickly with announcements in the coming days from states, cities, companies and political entities either embracing or condemning vaccine requirements.
Confusion on the Hill
Folks on Capitol Hill were getting mixed signals about where and when they should be wearing masks, how to apply new CDC guidance and how much risk there is for contracting Covid while working in Congress.
To mask, or not to mask: that’s a real question. Mask wearing has ramped up in the last week or so on Capitol Hill, but until late last night there wasn’t much clear guidance, leaving it to personal choice and comfort.
The Office of the Attending Physician issued late night guidance for each chamber Tuesday, but with a mandate for the House and a softer recommendation in the Senate, confusion still reigns. Partisan fights over masks erupted in the House earlier this year and could make a comeback if a fresh mask mandate is imposed.
Biden Plans to Require Covid-19 Vaccine or Regular Tests for Federal Workers
President Biden is expected to announce on Thursday that federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, CNN reports (The New York Times describes the change as under consideration). The president will not apply the requirement to the U.S. military but is expected to outline how the Department of Defense is preparing, CNN adds. The U.S. Army has said it is taking steps to require vaccination beginning Sept. 1, pending Food and Drug Administration regular approval of vaccines currently in emergency use, according to Stars and Stripes.
The president’s sweeping mandate to try to get more Americans vaccinated would go beyond a decision announced Monday by the Veterans Affairs Department to require its health care employees to be vaccinated. His decision tracks this week’s announcements by New York City and the state of California to require that public workers get vaccinated within weeks or submit to testing if unvaccinated as a way to limit the spread of the delta variant, which accounts for nearly all new U.S. infections.
Vaccine requirements are sweeping across the country
Among the entities that have announced them in recent days: New York City workers, state employees and health care workers in California, the Mayo Clinic, CNN and The Washington Post.
Expect this to get politicized quickly with announcements in the coming days from states, cities, companies and political entities either embracing or condemning vaccine requirements.
Illinois Fully Aligns with New CDC Masking Recommendations
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced it is fully adopting updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) masking recommendations to protect against COVID-19 and the Delta variant. CDC recommends that everyone, including fully vaccinated individuals, wear a mask in public indoor setting in areas with substantial and high transmission. CDC is also recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
“While data continues to show the effectiveness of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized in the U.S., including against the Delta variant, we are still seeing the virus rapidly spread among the unvaccinated,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 both continue to increase, overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, but the risk is greater for everyone if we do not stop the ongoing spread of the virus and the Delta variant. We know masking can help prevent transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Until more people are vaccinated, we join CDC in recommending everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial and high transmissions, and in K-12 schools.”
According to CDC, data show the Delta variant is much more contagious. Delta spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another compared to other strains. According to CDC, the Delta variant is causing some vaccine breakthrough infections, but even so, most breakthrough infections are mild, and the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
Areas of substantial transmission are considered by CDC to be those with 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period. Areas of high transmission are considered to be those with more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period. The community level of transmission can be found here https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view.
IDPH will be updating school FAQs and other guidance posted online to reflect the latest CDC Interim Public Health Recommendations for Full Vaccinated People.
Senate Negotiators Report Infrastructure Deal is Done
Senate negotiators announced Wednesday that they have resolved outstanding issues on a bipartisan infrastructure package and are prepared to vote as early as tonight to consider the measure.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the GOP’s lead negotiator, described the legislation as a major infrastructure package that would be popular both inside and outside Washington. For weeks, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats have been involved in the talks with White House officials. “It’s going to help with regard to our roads and our bridges and our ports and our waterways,” Portman said. “It also helps expand the digital infrastructure of broadband.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the top Democratic negotiator, confirmed the agreement. “We’re moving to a motion to proceed tonight,” she said. Sinema also said the group plans to release some text today and then “as we get the last pieces done, we’ll release them as well.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., had said on the floor that members should be prepared for a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle that will include text of the agreement as early as Wednesday night.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Democratic negotiator, said the agreement still needs to be vetted by all Senate Democrats. That’s a crucial step in the 50-50 Senate. “I’m not saying anything until we have a caucus lunch. I am optimistic,” said Coons, adding he was anxious to hear the Democrats’ reaction to the details. “But in terms of the ongoing negotiations between the core members of the working group, they have concluded.”
Portman said the legislative text was still being finalized and some number crunching remains, but the bill is “more than paid for” with budget offsets.
Infrastructure committees ask: What about us?
As bipartisan Senate negotiators continued marathon talks on an infrastructure package that includes $579 billion in new spending, a concern among committees and committee staff has grown: Where are our voices?
They say they’ve been cut out of negotiating on issues in their areas of jurisdiction, and it’s led to confusion and occasional hard feelings as arcane policy details are hammered out by 22 lawmakers who are mostly not members of those committees.
The bipartisan group, which forged a deal on COVID-19 spending late last year, is well versed in cutting deals, the committee people say. The group members are just not experts in infrastructure.
“I think it is an unusual process that the bipartisan group is using,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee. “And there has not been the openness with the committee leadership and trying to reach decisions that should have been there.”
The Maryland Democrat said he believed there were “some genuine misunderstandings” during the crafting of the framework. “But that’s because there wasn’t an opportunity to work with committee leadership as they were developing their proposals,” he said. “They just sort of went on their own. And that’s not the way they should have done it.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., compared the current process with the COVID-19 spending deal. “Each of the provisions was referred to the committee. And they made changes. Now the bill looked a lot different when it was all over, but it happened … and it went through the committee process in a very unusual way, not the regular way,” he said. The drafting of the infrastructure package, which is still not written in legislative text, has not been the same experience, Durbin said.
The tension became evident last week when EPW Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., threatened to withhold his support on the infrastructure package because he was frustrated at how the framework funded waste and drinking water projects. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., chairman of EPW’s Fisheries, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, followed suit.
The Democratic concerns were noteworthy because of the 50-50 split in the Senate and the need to have at least 10 Republicans on board to overcome any filibusters if the Democrats stick together. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a negotiator, said he believed the waste and drinking water issue was “resolved.”
“With apologies to Lennon and McCartney, it was a long and winding road because of that lack of familiarity with the issues,” Carper said Tuesday. Duckworth said none of three relevant chairpersons — including herself, Carper and Cardin — was consulted on the water money. That lack of consultation, she said, “just wasn’t tenable.”
Romney pushed back on suggestions that committees of jurisdiction have been shut out. The negotiators have used committee-passed legislation as policy language as they have filled in the framework. “There’s been extensive conversation with committee staff and committee leads,” Romney said. “And in most cases, the legislation that’s being drafted is simply taking the legislation that already went through committees and using that.” Asked why there had been so much confusion over the water issue, Romney said, “Everything’s going to be confused until the deal’s done and voted on.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said committee chairs and ranking members have cooperated with the negotiating team. “Knowing that this is not ideal but it’s just the way it worked out, they have been very supportive,” he said. “Is there occasional awkwardness? Yes, of course. But do things get worked out? Yes.”
A GOP aide familiar with the process, who asked not to be named to speak candidly, was less diplomatic. “We’re all for regular order, but there is no chance this would have ever gotten this far had we left the committees to their own devices,” the aide said. “Some of them just didn’t get their work done.”
There’s also tension in the House, where Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., said the framework “not only undercuts the House, but it also undercuts the subject matter experts in the Senate.” His five-year surface transportation and water bill, which passed the House on July 1, has effectively been ignored during the process.
DeFazio criticized the framework, saying it is being crafted “by these self-appointed experts who I’m not aware have any significant history in transportation policy.” He said he’s wary of the precedent set by a group of Senate negotiators cutting deals with the White House and leaving out the House altogether.
“We’ve become unicameral, with, you know, diktats from the White House and the Senate,” he said. “No, that’s not acceptable to the House of Representatives.”
DeFazio, a member of the transportation committee since he came to Congress in 1987, is affronted by the framework’s inattention to climate change, saying the negotiators are neglecting an ideal opportunity to address the threat. “Transportation is the largest fossil fuel emitter,” he said. “And anybody today who says there is no climate change is a jerk and an idiot.
“To do a transportation bill that doesn’t meaningfully deal with fossil fuel pollution from the largest source would be a travesty, and to lock in that policy for five years would be disastrous,” said DeFazio, who indicated he does not plan to vote for the Senate framework.
For their part, negotiators remained positive about their chances of a deal even as work continues on disputes that have bedeviled them throughout the process. Those include where to peg the percentage of funding going to public transportation systems, how to handle the bill’s broadband provisions and which pots of unused COVID-19 relief money can be used to pay for the infrastructure spending.
That last discussion has been complicated by different numbers on just how much COVID-19 relief money is available and the resurgent pandemic fueled by the rapidly spreading delta variant. “There’s a lot of things that continue to come up, which I take as good, because it means that those are things that actually had to be ironed out for you before you get an agreement that could pass,” said Cassidy. “As people become more familiar, inevitably more details arise.”
Federal Procurement Policy Change
The Biden administration is proposing a rule that would accelerate federal procurement policy to require a higher level of American-made products. Under an initiative to be announced today, the government would require that products obtained under the longstanding “Buy American” program have at least 60% of the value of components made in the U.S., up from the current 55% threshold. That would increase to 75% by 2029, White House officials said.
Mr. Biden is expected to discuss the proposal during a visit to a Mack Trucks plant in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state that he narrowly won in 2020. The new initiative is similar to what Mr. Trump pursued in office as he tried to strengthen domestic manufacturing with a particular aim toward lessening reliance on China. Officials said the new rule would also give priority to purchase supply-chain goods that have become scarce during the Covid-19 pandemic, such as semiconductors and medical equipment.
Gov. Pritzker Announces $200 Million Investment to Strengthen Early Childhood Workforce
Building on the administration’s ongoing work to make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise young children, Governor JB Pritzker announced a $200 million investment of federal funds in additional training, mentorships, and scholarships to pursue advanced credentials for the childcare workforce over the next two years. The governor also signed HB 2878, establishing a statewide early childhood consortium to strengthen access to high quality childcare and direct this funding to where it can be most effective.
Roughly $150 million in funding will be directed towards resources for childcare workers and nearly $120 million will go towards financial support — including scholarships — to encourage childcare workers to pursue advanced credentials. An additional $30 million will provide coaches, mentors, and navigators the tools needed to help childcare workers pursue their degrees. This allotment of federal funding has the potential to upskill about 20 percent of those in need, or about 5,600 childcare workers, who may not be able to otherwise complete a postsecondary degree by 2024.
“I’m proud to announce a $200 million investment to bolster the education, training, skills, and credentials of Illinois childcare workforce over the next two years,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We are improving the lives of children across our state by giving them a new level of quality care by upskilling our early childhood workforce. We are providing educational opportunity for 5,600 people to earn degrees that will advance their careers. And we are advancing our pandemic economic recovery. All of these investments will pay dividends for years to come.”
This investment builds on the governor’s commitment to make Illinois the best state in the nation for families raising young children. Earlier this month, the state increased payment rates to providers for the third time since the governor took office. During the pandemic, Illinois dedicated $290 million to 5,000 childcare centers and homes in 95 counties. Due to the success of the program, the administration also expanded federal COVID-19 relief dollars to provide another $280 million in grants to support families and childcare providers.
Furthering the state’s mission to upskill childcare workers, the governor signed HB 2878 creating the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity to help strengthen childcare workers’ career trajectory.
The bill authorizes the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) to create the Consortium to help childcare workers earn advanced degrees and strengthen the pipeline of early childhood educators. With the childcare industry predominantly staffed by women, and particularly women of color, this initiative aims to advance equity while meeting the needs of early childhood educators to help better serve children and families.
“I’m thrilled that the Governor is investing $200 million in the childcare workforce and launching the Consortium,” said IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro. “Early childhood teachers told us they want opportunities to grow and learn but they want to do it while still teaching, caring for their families, and supporting their communities. Through this collaboration of community colleges and public universities we will make that possible.”
“The early childhood education consortium represents a groundbreaking partnership between the state’s community colleges and public universities,” said ICCB Executive Director Brian Durham. “The consortium approach recognizes the important role that community colleges play in training the early childhood education workforce. In particular, the requirement that the Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood transfers seamlessly to any public four-year institution across the state will empower these workers to upskill efficiently and with minimal disruption, positioning them for higher wages and career advancement.”
To expand degree pathways, the legislation specifically:
• Grants ‘junior statuses to childcare workers who have earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in early childhood education
• Determines how to assign college credit for incumbent childcare workers who have a child development associate credential
• Standardizes methods to award credit for prior learning
“Ultimately, upskilling the incumbent early childhood workforce fosters racial, gender, geographic, and economic equity while enabling families to work, go to school and provide a safe and high-quality environment for children to learn and grow. They are the workforce behind the workforce who held us together during the pandemic. This new law will dismantle barriers and streamline pathways for diverse early childhood professionals to meet educational goals and foster economic stability,” said State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas (D-Chicago). “The governor’s support for early childhood educators is evident, and I commend him for signing this law today.”
“Meeting the needs of our workforce where they are is so important. This consortium model puts Illinois at the forefront in the development of highly skilled early childhood educators who are so vital to future success, and at the same time provides a framework to meet future workforce needs as they develop and our economy grows and changes,” said State Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville). “I want to thank everyone who was involved in crafting this landmark legislation.”
To ensure lasting benefits in the education workforce, the bill also creates a 30-member advisory committee for the consortium to submit a report to the General Assembly and the Governor’s office on an annual basis.
Governor Pritzker Talks Plans for Unemployment Trust Fund
Governor Pritzker isn’t considering using federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay down a multi-billion-dollar Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund deficit. The reason Pritzker won’t consider using federal ARPA funds on the $4.2 billion Trust Fund deficit, he said, is because he did not believe it a permissible use of the funding, and he is hopeful that the federal government will provide aid or rule changes to accommodate the 17 states that have outstanding federal borrowing balances in their trust funds amounting to $54 billion cumulatively.
“You can’t actually use ARPA funds according to the rules of ARPA. You can’t repay any debt that’s already owed to the federal government,” Pritzker said in the interview with CNI, citing the state’s initial plan to repay pandemic related Municipal Liquidity Facility funding with the ARPA funds – a use later ruled impermissible.
Interim U.S. Treasury rules for ARPA funding and the plans of dozens of other states, however, contradict the governor’s statement on the use of ARPA funds to repay the Unemployment Trust Fund deficit. The Associated Press reported on May 27 that “at least 29 states already have transferred or proposed to use a total of more than $12 billion of federal coronavirus aid for their unemployment trust funds.”
Per the interim final rule, published May 17 in the Federal Register, “recipients may make deposits into the state account of the Unemployment Trust Fund … up to the level needed to restore the pre-pandemic balances of such account as of January 27, 2020, or to pay back advances received under Title XII of the Social Security Act.”
“States facing a sharp increase in Unemployment Insurance claims during the pandemic may have drawn down positive Unemployment Trust Fund balances and, after exhausting the balance, required advances to fund continuing obligations to claimants,” the Treasury guidance reads. “Because both of these impacts were driven directly by the need for assistance to unemployed workers during the pandemic, replenishing Unemployment Trust Funds up to the pre-pandemic level responds to the pandemic’s negative economic impacts on unemployed workers.”
During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Pritzker said, he spoke to President Joe Biden and Illinois’ congressional leaders to seek further federal assistance for the Trust Fund. He expounded Wednesday on what changes might be possible.
“Some of this has to do with whether or not there could be legislation that’s passed. And some of this is really changes in the rules that could be made,” he said. “Certainly, if we could extend the due date of the Trust Fund deficit to the federal government, that might be of assistance to us. So we’re looking at everything that’s available to us, because you know, all of us have the same goal, right, which is to get that deficit down without it being a burden to businesses or to workers.”
Business groups (including the Joliet Chamber) have called on Pritzker to reinstate more stringent work search requirements for Illinoisans who are on unemployment, to end a $300 federal monthly payment to unemployed individuals earlier than its September end date, and to infuse the Trust Fund with federal ARPA dollars.
Each state has an Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund account maintained by the U.S. Treasury but funded by the state’s businesses through insurance premiums collected via payroll taxes. The rates at which businesses pay into Illinois’ fund are determined by a complex statutory formula.
The business community has warned that without a solution to the Trust Fund deficit, premium rates on employers could rise by the hundreds of millions, while unemployment benefits could decrease in the hundreds of millions come January.
While use of the ARPA funding would have to be approved by lawmakers, Pritzker’s administration and former governors have generally been heavily involved in the negotiating process on unemployment issues. But Pritzker said he is hopeful federal action might come through before that time period. Earlier this month, Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, said he expects Congress to begin debating the next steps on unemployment as the current federal boost to benefits ends in September.
“The question is, where will we be based upon the support that we may get from the federal government and the reduction of the number of people who are on unemployment? So we’ll have to see where that ends up,” Pritzker said Wednesday.
For his part, Pritzker said he has expanded childcare availability in an effort to encourage a return to the workforce and alleviate stresses on the system.
“The biggest thing that’s keeping many people from getting back to work is the fact that they have to handle childcare. Sometimes it’s senior care. People who stepped out of their jobs because they needed to take care of somebody at home,” he said. “And so we’ve expanded massively the availability of childcare, particularly for those up to $60,000 in earnings. …We now have available to people $1 a month childcare, that’s for people who are at the poverty level and up to 250 percent of poverty level, people being able to pay only 7 percent of their earnings. So that’s a significant move forward to help people get back to work.”
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Special Presentation: Small Business Compliance with Department of Labor
Did you know that most employees in the U.S. are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? As an employer, are you aware of and meeting your obligations?
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
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry