Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
We’re sticking to GA news as much as possible here, but can’t deny the robust amount of new info coming down regarding this covid variant. “The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must ‘acknowledge the war has changed.”
Please read below for a full roundup.
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*
Update on Infrastructure Before the Weekend
A bipartisan infrastructure plan is finally winding its way through Congress after it stalled out for weeks. The Senate will hold a procedural vote Friday to move ahead with its bipartisan infrastructure plan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aims to pass it as soon as next week. The bill is the first of two massive pieces of economic legislation Democrats hope to pass this year. Democratic leaders’ strategy to get both measures through Congress comes with a range of possible pitfalls, both from within and outside their party.
Jobless Claims Resumed Decline Last Week
Workers’ filings for new unemployment benefits resumed their decline last week and remain near a pandemic low as the labor market continues to recover from the pandemic, economists say.
New jobless claims dropped slightly to 400,000 for the week ended July 24 from a revised 424,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility in the weekly figures, edged higher to 394,500.
The labor market and overall economy are expected to continue recovering from a sharp downturn earlier in the pandemic. But economists cite uncertainty from the Delta variant of Covid-19, continuing supply-chain constraints and a shortage of available workers as risks to the outlook.
“I do expect to see job growth pick up, but I’m not sure how and when these issues are going to be resolved and how households are going to respond,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
Employers added 850,000 jobs in June, the most in 10 months, and workers’ wages also increased. The number of people receiving jobless benefits from regular state programs, so-called continuing claims, rose by 7,000 to 3.3 million in the week ended July 17.
The number of people receiving jobless benefits through all programs, including those created as part of federal pandemic-relief assistance, rose by more than half a million to 13.2 million in the week ended July 10.
At the same time, job openings have reached record levels. Many employers have said they are having trouble filling positions and paying higher wages after the pandemic shrank the labor force, giving some workers increased leverage.
Economic Growth Rose to 6.5 Percent Annual Rate in Second Quarter
U.S. economic growth stayed strong in the second quarter as rising vaccinations and a return to pre-pandemic activities unleashed a wave of pent-up demand, according to data released Thursday by the Commerce Department.
Gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 6.5 percent from April to June, the Commerce Department said, slightly higher than the 6.3 percent grate from the first quarter.
The annualized growth rate indicates how much the U.S. economy would have grown if the second quarter’s pace had lasted for 12 months, and the new figures helped push total GDP past its pre-pandemic peak in February 2020, effectively closing the gap in output from COVID-19.
A number of economists had expected GDP to grow roughly 8 percent in the second quarter, according to a consensus of estimates, as an American public increasingly vaccinated against COVID-19 returned to restaurants, bars, hotels, entertainment venues, sports events, and vacations hindered by pandemic-related restrictions and health concerns.
The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 economic relief bill signed by President Biden in late March also helped GDP expand. But, a sharp jump in inflation, supply shortages driven by the reopening rush, and the surge of the COVID-19 delta variant later in the quarter caused some analysts to trim down their estimates shortly before Thursday’s report, which came in well below expectations.
“The second-quarter increase in real GDP reflected increases in consumer spending, business investment, exports, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by decreases in inventory investment, housing investment, and federal government spending. Imports, a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased,” the Commerce Department said.
Consumer spending rose at an annualized pace of 11.8 percent in the second quarter, slightly higher than the first quarter pace of 11.4 percent, as Americans shifted their purchases from goods to services.
Spending on all goods rose at an annualized 11.6 percent in the second quarter, down from 27.4 percent in the first, while growth in spending on services rose from 3.9 percent to 12 percent between April and June.
“The long-awaited pivot to services demand began in the second quarter of 2021,” wrote Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at audit firm RSM.
Small Business Administration to revamp PPP forgiveness in bid to end historic program
The Small Business Administration said it would make it easier for the smallest businesses that got funds from the Paycheck Protection Program to have their loans forgiven, as the agency seeks to wind down the Covid-19 rescue program.
About 2 million business owners with PPP loans of $150,000 or less will soon be allowed to apply for loan forgiveness directly through the SBA instead of their banks. There are about 7.1 million PPP loans that remain outstanding and about 6 million are for $150,000 or less.
Eligible borrowers will receive an email from the SBA with a link to the online portal, said Patrick Kelley, associate administrator for SBA’s office of capital access. The application should take less than 10 minutes to complete, he said, and the SBA has created a customer service line to answer borrower questions.
Banks responsible for originating the PPP loans must opt into direct forgiveness before their borrowers can use the SBA’s online platform, a decision that could potentially limit the initiative’s reach. Currently, over 500 banks, representing 30% of qualifying loans, have agreed to let their customers apply for forgiveness using the SBA portal, which begins accepting applications on Aug. 4.
The largest bank to opt into the program so far is Customers Bank, which made more than 320,000 PPP loans worth a total of $9.6 billion. The bank, whose average PPP loan was under $30,000, said that the SBA portal “is the fastest and best way to assure quick approval of loan forgiveness of small PPP loans.”
A spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase & Co. said the bank hasn’t decided yet whether to participate in the program. “We’re evaluating all aspects of the process and meanwhile continue to encourage our customers to apply for forgiveness through our platform,” she said. So far 75% of the bank’s 2020 loan recipients have had their loans forgiven, she said.
The direct forgiveness portal, which the SBA says is designed to streamline the process and take pressure off smaller lenders, is a departure from the Trump administration’s policy of having banks act as the go-between for the SBA and borrowers.
The Consumer Bankers Association, a trade association for some of the nation’s largest retail banks, said the new forgiveness platform will save small businesses time, while making the program opt-in allows “lenders the choice to retain oversight of their customer relationships.”
Biden Calls on States to Offer $100 Vaccine Incentives
President Biden on Thursday called on state and local governments to use funds from his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to offer $100 payments to individuals in order to incentivize coronavirus vaccinations. The payments would be offered to newly vaccinated Americans to provide “an extra incentive to boost vaccination rates, protect communities, and save lives,” the Treasury Department said in an announcement Thursday afternoon.
“Treasury stands ready to give technical assistance to state and local governments so that they may use the funds effectively to support increased vaccination in their communities, and Treasury will partner with the Department of Health and Human Services throughout this effort,” it said.
The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law, which Biden signed in March, included $350 billion in funding to assist state, territorial and local governments in battling the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Treasury Department clarified in May that governments that receive funds could use them for vaccine incentive programs. Several states and private businesses have already offered vaccine incentives in the form of lotteries and free food and other goods.
The announcement represents the latest strategy by the Biden administration to incentivize vaccines amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant.
Biden Asks Federal Employees to Get Vaccinated or Submit to Testing
President Biden on Thursday is directing all federal employees and onsite contractors to show that they are vaccinated or otherwise submit to regular coronavirus testing, a major step that will likely cause other private sector businesses to follow suit. President Biden is also instructing his administration to apply similar standards to all federal government contractors. The White House says it will encourage private sector employers to follow his lead.
The White House had previously tried to avoid tipping the scales by endorsing vaccine mandates for employers and other organizations. Thursday’s announcement represents a sizable shift as the White House tries to convince more people to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases rise due to the spread of the delta variant.
A growing number of businesses have elected to mandate vaccines for employees as a condition of returning to in-person work. Several private colleges have done the same for their students. Earlier this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first public entity to require vaccines for its healthcare workers.
According to the White House, the federal government will ask employees and onsite contractors to attest to their vaccination status. Those who do not show that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will need to mask, socially distance and submit to weekly or twice weekly coronavirus testing. Their work travel will also be restricted.
Public health experts say that the new mandate could help drive up vaccination rates by setting a model for other businesses at a time when the delta variant. “We’re at the point where some use of mandates is really important,” said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Health Lab.
The federal government employs over 4 million people. It’s unclear what percentage of the workforce is currently not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Biden Calls on Congress to Extend Eviction Ban
The White House called on Congress to pass an emergency extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction ban on Thursday, three days before it expires, insisting the administration does not have the legal power to extend it after a recent Supreme Court ruling.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available,” she added.
The Supreme Court last month left intact the CDC’s moratorium on evictions by a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined with the court’s three liberals. But Kavanaugh also said he agreed with a federal judge’s determination that the CDC had exceeded its authority in enacting the moratorium and argued that it could not be extended again unless by an act of Congress. For that reason, another extension could be reversed by the court if it is challenged by one of the moratorium’s many opponents. “In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the President calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” Psaki said Thursday.
The CDC issued its unprecedented ban on most evictions in September under former President Trump, and the moratorium has been extended several times under Biden. The CDC most recently extended the ban in June through July 31 for what the agency said would likely be the last time.
Even so, progressive lawmakers and affordable housing advocates have urged Biden to extend the moratorium, with COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant rising sharply and less than 10 percent of federal rental aid actually in the hands of tenants or landlords. It is not clear whether Congress can or will be able to meet Biden’s emergency request and pass an extension of the ban before it expires on Aug. 1.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the speaker “agrees with President Biden that the moratorium must be extended” and is “exploring all options to do so.” A Schumer spokesman also said that Democrats favor extending the moratorium, “are exploring options to do so immediately, and urge Republicans not to block.”
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) could both tee up votes on a basic extension, but both chambers would have to pass the same bill and navigate a potential GOP filibuster in the Senate.
Republican lawmakers have opposed Biden’s previous extensions of the CDC ban and have called on Congress to lay out a more sustainable process to keep renters housed and make landlords whole.
“This is a full-scale failure by the Biden Administration that Republicans have been trying to address for months,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. “Now, we are three days away from the end of the CDC’s unconstitutional eviction moratorium, and what is President Biden’s solution? Blame the Court and call on Congress to fix it. This is absurd,” he said. “This Administration is squarely to blame for any American family that loses their home due to the gross mismanagement of the Emergency Rental Assistance programs.”
While GOP resistance may not derail an extension in the House, it will take the support of at least 10 Republican senators to push an extension through the Senate. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
President Biden’s last-ditch request comes as his administration scrambles to prevent millions of Americans from being evicted amid a jump in COVID-19 cases. Researchers at the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated 15 million people in 6.5 million households are at risk of eviction when the moratorium expires.
The White House has spent weeks attempting to push more of the $46 billion in federal rental aid out to struggling tenants and the landlords and utilities companies they owe, which could help prevent many tenants from removal. But less than 7 percent of that aid has been disbursed by the state and local groups in charge of reaching eligible recipients, frustrating the White House and members in both parties.
“The President urges states and localities, which long ago received Emergency Rental Assistance – including through the American Rescue Plan – to urgently accelerate their efforts to disburse these funds given the imminent ending of the CDC eviction moratorium,” Psaki said.
“With some cities and states demonstrating their ability to release these funds efficiently to tenants and landlords in need, there can be no excuse for any state or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet this critical need of so many Americans.” But former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said the CDC should extend the ban on its own if only to give tenants a few more days to save themselves from homelessness.
“The WH is right that Congress must act. But these calls should have come weeks ago, not 72 hours before the moratorium expires,” Castro wrote on Twitter. “SCOTUS may strike down a CDC extension, but it’s worth the risk to give tenants time to secure assistance without being kicked out into the street.”
Pelosi Calls on CDC
As House Democratic leaders struggle to find enough party support to extend an eviction moratorium, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is advocating a temporary fix, urging the Biden administration to act unilaterally to help the nation’s most vulnerable renters.
The Speaker said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has instituted a ban on evictions through the end of Saturday, should extend the deadline further, giving House Democrats more time to codify the extension in legislation.
“I think this is something that we’ll work out. It isn’t about any more money — the money is there, resting in localities and governors’ offices across the country,” Pelosi said Friday morning during a press briefing in the Capitol. “So we’d like the CDC to expand the moratorium. That’s where it can be done.”
The remarks come as Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are scrambling to locate the votes to extend the eviction moratorium legislatively — a request that President Biden made only Thursday. The Rules Committee considered the topic on Friday morning, debating a proposal sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), head of the Financial Services Committee. But a number of moderate Democrats are opposed to the bill — one put the number of Democratic opponents at 14. And Democrats of all stripes are grumbling that Biden waited until Thursday — just two days before the House is scheduled to leave Washington for a long summer vacation — to request that Congress take up the issue.
“I quite frankly wish he had asked us sooner,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the Rules panel, during a Friday morning hearing. Biden’s request came weeks after the Supreme Court, on June 29, had warned that the CDC lacks the authority to extend the moratorium beyond July 31 without congressional action. Pelosi, however, has a different view. Calling the extension “an imperative,” she said the House will eventually work out its differences and pass the Waters bill, which extends the moratorium through the end of the year.
In the meantime, however, she’s calling on the nation’s governors to use billions of dollars Congress has already allocated to help renters — she put the figure at $46 billion in unspent assistance. “The fact is, almost $50 billion was allocated — $46 billion. Less than 10 percent of that has been spent, around $3 billion,” she said. “Why should the renters be punished for the fact that the system did not put money in their pockets to pay the rent to the landlords?
She also argued that the CDC does have the authority to extend the moratorium on its own — Supreme Court ruling or none. “I think the CDC can,” she said.
State of Illinois Announces Face Coverings Now Required in All State Facilities, Regardless of Vaccination Status
The State of Illinois announced that face coverings are now required in all State facilities for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. The announcements comes as data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the majority of counties across Illinois are experiencing substantial or high COVID-19 transmission, now including Cook County. The state is taking this action as an employer to protect its employees, but more broadly, the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) continue to recommend everyone, including fully vaccinated individuals, wear a mask in public indoor setting in areas with substantial and high transmission.
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
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Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry