Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Today is the unleashing of the first edition of the Government Affairs Roundup. This builds on the daily coronavirus update that ended last week after 300 plus editions. Plan to see this in your inbox two to three times a week focusing on government affairs news.
So with that said, today’s roundup focuses on accessible and affordable healthcare, unfunded pension liability, state sustainability, unemployment office status, and the cannabis industry expansion.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
Gov. Pritzker Signs Legislation Making Healthcare More Accessible and Affordable for Illinoisans
Joined by healthcare providers and legislative leaders at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, Governor JB Pritzker signed legislation that will help make healthcare more accessible and affordable for Illinois residents that rely on the state’s Medicaid system.
“Healthcare is a human right. Here in Illinois, we won’t stop until everyone can access all aspects of it. In recognition of the pandemic that we continue to live in, this legislation expands emergency Medicaid coverage for many months to come. That means Illinoisans who suddenly found themselves in need of Medicaid coverage in the face of COVID-19 won’t find the rug pulled out from under them just because our lives are starting to feel a bit more ‘normal.’” said Governor JB Pritzker. “This legislation is a product of our passionately dedicated bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators who are part of the Medicaid Legislative Working Group. I want to thank Leader Harris and Senator Gillespie for championing this Medicaid omnibus bill as well as their colleagues in the General Assembly and the advocacy community who came together to send this bill to my desk.”
“This bipartisan bill to improve Medicaid for children, the elderly and families who seek counseling is one of the most important bills we passed this session to continue addressing health disparities,” said House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). “Here in Illinois, we will continue working towards access to comprehensive health care as a basic human right. This is the progress that is possible when lawmakers can work in a bipartisan fashion for all Illinoisans.”
“Expanding Medicaid coverage will improve health outcomes in communities where it is needed most. By enhancing provider networks and making essential services more available, working families across the state can receive the care they need to keep themselves and their communities healthy,” said Senator Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights).
Senate Bill 2294 makes multiple changes to Illinois’ Medicaid system including expansion of the program to cover new services and the implementation of new Medicaid-adjacent services by the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services (HFS) and other agencies. The legislation provides:
• Continued Medicaid eligibility through the COVID-19 public health emergency and up to 12 months after it expires regardless of whether federally required or funded
• Medicaid coverage for whole-health programs
• Veteran support specialists so our heroes receive care that recognizes their unique struggles
• Individual and group programs for those seeking help ending their tobacco addiction
• An expansion of mental health resources through the addition of clinical professional counselors and the creation of a comprehensive statewide behavioral health strategy
• A requirement that in-patient status be given to anyone in need experiencing an opioid overdose, ensuring that lower-income residents aren’t turned away when they need it most
• New coverage of kidney transplant medications regardless of residency, building on the state’s nation-leading efforts to ensure the health of undocumented people
• An expansion of HFS’s Medicaid enrollment assistance program through application agents, technical assistance, and outreach grants
• An $80 million increase in the supportive living facility (SLF) rate — a 10% increase until March 31, 2022 — paid through federal ARPA funds
In addition to signing SB 2294, which takes effect immediately, Gov. Pritzker highlighted that blood supplies are at critically low levels. Hospitals have seen a rising need for blood products, and there is an urgent need for residents to donate. To find a location to donate blood, visit the American Red Cross website and enter your zip code under the ‘Find a Drive’ heading.
SB 2294 is effective immediately.
Report Ranks Illinois Near the Bottom for Unfunded Pension Liability
A new report analyzing unfunded public pension liabilities ranks Illinois near the bottom.
The annual publication, called “Unaccountable and Unaffordable 2020” by the American Legislative Exchange Council, looks at each state’s unfunded public pension liabilities. The report finds state government’s unfunded liabilities total $5.8 trillion nationwide, an average of $17,748 per person. ALEC ranked Illinois 49th in terms of the total liability and also per capita amount at $31,980 per person.
“Unfunded pension liabilities are a looming threat to state’s financial health,” ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said. “This report tackles the issue head-on and provides examples of reforms that work, such as defined contribution plans.” Falling interest rates and weaker-than-expected investment performance have also been hampering the state’s pension plans. The Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois, the largest of the five state pension systems, reported investment returns of 0.52% in 2020, far below its target of 7%.
ALEC chief economist and executive vice president Jonathan Williams said there are two options for states once they go down this road and neither are ideal. One is to cut government services and the other is to raise taxes. “You can’t even raise taxes high enough in many cases to pay for the unfunded liabilities because what will happen then, the higher you raise tax rates, the more outmigration, certainly something Illinois has suffered over recent decades,” said Williams.
Joining Illinois in the bottom five for the worst unfunded pension liabilities per capita are New Jersey, Hawaii and Connecticut, with Alaska at the bottom. The top five states are Tennessee, Indiana, Nebraska, Florida and Wisconsin. Tennessee’s unfunded liabilities per capita amount to $6,346 per person.
Williams said that unfunded public pension debt poses a significant risk not only to state taxpayers, but also to state workers and retirees. “Fortunately, states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee and Oklahoma have all enacted pension reforms in recent years that will ensure promises to workers and retirees are honored, provide flexibility for young workers and protect hardworking taxpayers,” Williams said.
Illinois Ranks #1 in Site Selection Magazine’s Annual Sustainability Rankings
Illinois tops the nation in Site Selection magazine’s annual ranking of the top locations for sustainable development, released today. The state moves up from the third spot in the 2021 report, which combines standard green metrics such as LEED-certified buildings, renewable energy use and green building incentives with measures such as the areas’ corporate social responsibility profiles in order to identify the best locations in the world for sustainable development. Illinois has bested California, Michigan, New York and Minnesota for the top spot in 2021.
“Illinois tops the charts in sustainability thanks to forward-looking policies, a long history of green development, and the timely investments my administration is making to boost economic opportunity and promote healthier environments for decades to come,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Our strategic push to expand our burgeoning electric vehicle industry, supporting manufacturers like Lion Electric and Rivian, is an example of the many sustainable and renewable energy projects around our state. Every day we see more companies choosing Illinois to scale environmentally beneficial products that create good, 21st century jobs. The time is now to invest in an equity-centric clean energy future, which is why I am proactively supporting the resources, infrastructure and skilled workforce training needed to keep Illinois communities and companies at the forefront of this revolution.”
“Illinois scored particularly well in our index where LEED-certified and Energy Star buildings were concerned, as well as in per-capita calculations of renewable energy deployment and facility investments from cleantech industries,” said Adam Bruns, the managing editor of Site Selection who first conceived of the rankings in 2010. “Projects like the recent EV manufacturing investments and the unique Green Era Farming Campus on the South Side of Chicago will only strengthen the state’s sustainability profile.”
Illinois continues to be recognized for its advancements in clean energy adoption, ranking fifth in the U.S. for wind energy generation and recent expansions in electric vehicle manufacturing. The EV industry in Illinois is projected to increase by 83% by 2024, when an estimated 9,500 workers will be employed throughout the state according to a recent study by Advanced Energy Economy.
Commitments from leading companies include Rivian, which is producing its electric SUVs and trucks in Normal, Illinois adding 1,900 jobs and Canadian based Lion Electric, which is investing $70M in its first ever U.S. production center in Joliet and adding 745 jobs to produce 20,000 electric buses and trucks annually.
“While the State of Illinois has always been a leader in sustainability, under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, we are taking significant steps to reduce our collective carbon footprint and to expand innovative and clean technologies that will simultaneously boost green jobs and investment for our communities,” said Sylvia Garcia, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity. “With Illinois poised for major future growth, we are committed to making investments in workforce development and other resources that put Illinois at the cutting edge of clean energy development and give companies confidence needed to invest for long-term growth here in our state.”
To advance Illinois’ goals to become a clean energy economy by 2050 and put one million EVs on the roads by 2030, the Pritzker administration is investing in workforce training to help companies scale quickly and meet demand for talent. This includes a recent $15 million investment to increase specialized training programs, such as those planned for Heartland Community College focused on electric vehicles and energy storage, to further prepare Illinoisans for the projected industry growth.
“We’re pleased to see Illinois recognized as the number one destination in the country for sustainable development,” said Alya Adamany Woods, Acting CEO & COO of Intersect Illinois. “We’ve seen increased interest from companies choosing Illinois because of its commitment to sustainability and its thriving ecosystem of organizations that are committed to a clean energy future.”
The administration has also prioritized investments in sustainable infrastructure, with Rebuild Illinois capital funding devoted to creation of additional charging stations, as well as community driven projects like the Green Era Urban Farming Campus in Auburn Gresham.
Illinois ranked #3 in the U.S. for LEED-certified building in 2020. Site Selection’s rankings comprise indices that blend standard green metrics such as LEED-certified buildings, renewable energy use and green building incentives with inputs such as the areas’ corporate social responsibility profiles, brownfield redevelopment, corporate facility investments in sectors with green connections, and commercial real estate environmental, social and governance (ESG) data.
Illinois’ Unemployment Offices Still Closed to Public
Those needing to speak in person with someone at the state’s unemployment offices haven’t been able to for well over a year and it’s still not clear when the offices will be open. Offices around the state for the Illinois Department of Employment Security have been closed since the spring of 2020. For months while unemployment claims spiked because of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions closing businesses, backlogs grew and phone lines were flooded.
IDES officials have said there are health and physical safety concerns. Since then, other government operations have been opened at least partially, if not fully. Asked when IDES offices will open back up, Pritzker gave a response he’s given for months.
“The answer is very soon,” Pritzker said. “You know we’re opening our, across the state, different offices of state government. Some are partially open. Some are almost all open. We’re completing this process and so it will be very soon for IDES.” A House resolution passed nearly unanimously in May urging the governor to reopen IDES offices. Pritzker says the department is still handling claims by phone and internet.
One problem that persists is unemployment fraud. The state has yet to put a value on it, but it could be in the billions of dollars. Other issues with unemployment include the impacts of enhanced unemployment benefits.
Since June 11, Pritzker doesn’t have capacity restrictions on businesses as he’s had since the spring of 2020. Businesses around the state have expressed labor shortages with some indicating the enhanced benefits equates to nearly $20 an hour for those not working. Some have said that’s because the governor isn’t following half the states in the nation in ending enhanced unemployment benefits.
“They’re staying home in part because they can’t get childcare, in part because there is a fear of either the situation at the workplace where they may get COVID or, very importantly in many families, a concern that they may bring COVID home to family members who are vulnerable,” the governor said.
The Wall Street Journal reported states that ended enhanced benefits of $300 extra a week early are seeing declining numbers of those taking the state benefit as well. Illinois’ unemployment rate of 7.1% continues to be higher than the national average of 5.8% and is the 10th highest in the country. Across the river in Missouri, the unemployment rate is below the national average at 4.2% and is the 17th best rate in the country. Missouri ended the enhanced unemployment benefits two weeks ago.
Illinois’ Cannabis Industry is Still on Hold
A bill passed by the General Assembly in May that would correct discrepancies in the lottery process is sitting on the governor’s desk waiting for him to sign it. The national accounting firm KPMG continues the meticulous process of checking applications for dispensaries. And the manufacturing end of the cannabis industry is on hold, too: licenses for craft grow, infusion and transportation, which were supposed to have been distributed July 1 last year, have yet to be handed out.
So here we are again on July 1, and you have to wonder whether minority operators will be operational before the end of the year. By the time all the kinks are worked out, more established firms in the industry will have had a two-year head start compared to any Black or Brown operators starting up a dispensary.
It’s a point recognized by the Pritzker administration. “It’s a lengthy process because we are giving applicants multiple times to submit corrections [to their applications] so we have as many social equity applicants as possible when we have a lottery,” a Pritzker administration source said. “It’s a long process but at the end of the day, we want as many people as possible to be able to take part.” That’s just to get into the lottery. Those who win licenses then must raise capital, work with zoning officials and build a facility.
“I echo the frustration of applicants across the state who thought they’d be breaking ground on their facilities by now,” said Ron Holmes, a cannabis lobbyist and co-founder of Majority-Minority Group consulting firm, which has advised applicants for new licenses.
In spite of the rancor that KPMG caused in the first lottery process, the accounting firm is still on contract to oversee the applications for subsequent lotteries. It’s going through “deficiency notices” — corresponding with applicants who need to fix their applications to be eligible.
So the waiting game for the lotteries continues. “At this point,” Holmes said, “there is no clear timeline as to when Black and Brown folks will be able to start growing and distributing their own products.”
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
|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