Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Friday the 13th edition here today for you brings back some Coronavirus news as it is unavoidable (once again, unfortunately). A number of people have reached out to see what is allowable for the return of mask and vaccine mandates.
Mask mandates and vaccines have been regulated on the most part by individual states and governors, whether that is allowing or trying to silence. Sometimes local and statewide differ. Believe it or not, Illinois for once is making things “easy” for business owners with a clear path of what is allowable.
Employers can mandate both vaccines and mask wearing on premises. CDC is still recommending wearing a mask where cases are high, but you as an owner still have the ability to set your policy based on your decision. Reasonable accommodations still have to be made for certain individuals just like last year when this all started.
As far as vaccinations go, more and more larger companies are coming out with vaccine mandates and the legal world is very comfortable with this mandate on employees. Again, reasonable accommodations are necessary for those that can’t be due to medical condition or a specific religious belief that prohibits them. Accommodations would vary and all should seek counsel in these areas.
The big question seems to be how can we mandate and offer exceptions at the same time? Again, please seek legal counsel on this as we have numerous law firms that are chamber members that can assist with your coverage.
This past spring the Joliet Chamber joined the Chambers All In for Economic Recovery coalition. The coalition is designed to address your concerns as a business community through our legislative system. Over 50 chambers of commerce from across the state have come together to advocate for you, our business community. Our job is to help your voice be heard.
As we look forward to the next legislative session, we want to hear from you. A survey to gauge your concerns and legislative interests has been designed, and we ask that you share your thoughts. The results from this survey will serve as the basis for the platform of Chambers All In for Economic Recovery in the months to come. The relevance and effects of our advocacy efforts are tied to our connection with you.
We thank you for your time and appreciate your feedback. Here is the survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/JolietLegislative
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
Senate Holds Committee Hearing on Back to Business Program
Yesterday, the Senate Joint Appropriations & Commerce Committee held a subject matter hearing on the Back to Business (B2B) Grant Program. A presentation was given by DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia as well as other department leaders.
The B2B Program will award $250 million to small businesses that have experienced loss due to the pandemic. This program is funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Garcia said that DCEO is proud of the work done by the Business interruption Grant Program (the administration’s previous small business relief grant) but tout the improvements made in the new program. Improvements include utilization of 2020 tax returns, a user-friendly online portal, and regular updates to the general assembly. DCEO has also pledged to find the businesses most affected by COVID-19.
Participation in the program is limited to businesses with $20 million or less in annual revenue in 2019 with at least $5,000 losses in 2020 due to the pandemic. Priority is given to businesses with less than $5 million in revenue as well as businesses that have not received any emergency relief. $25 million is set aside for businesses that applied for but did not receive funds from the BIG program.
The Department stressed that community outreach and tech assistance for the program will be greatly expanded from the BIG program. Witnesses representing the small business community reiterated the plight of businesses that did not receive funding from the BIG program and could possibly be left behind once again. Offering a solution, the witness suggested that more funds be put into the program and promptness be prioritized.
Vaccine Full Authorization
Pressure is ramping up on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to give a full authorization to COVID-19 vaccines, a move that would serve as a key marker in the vaccination efforts, as it would likely lead to more mandates and help individuals overcome hesitancy.
A full authorization could open the floodgates to mandates from governmental sectors and the private sector, leading experts to wonder why the FDA hasn’t moved more quickly given the strong track record of the vaccines and the importance of full approval as the delta variant surges.
Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said that a full approval could be an “opportunity for a restart on vaccine messaging” if Biden, health officials and governors take advantage, adding that it would give “new cover” for businesses to feel comfortable about mandates for their employees, and requiring proof of vaccination for customers.
As of the end of June, polling showed that 31 percent of unvaccinated individuals said full approval would make them more likely to get the shots, higher than the percentage who said the same for a chance to win a million dollars or a mobile clinic coming to their neighborhood.
Illinois Rental Payment Program Provides Over $209 Million to Renters and Landlords Impacted By COVID-19
Governor Pritzker, along with the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), announced that more than $209 million in rental assistance has been paid on behalf of 26,300 renter households impacted by COVID-19. With over 40% of the $500 million in available funds committed to being paid, Illinois is ramping up its distribution of assistance through the Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP) and was the second highest provider of rental assistance among all states in June.
There are still more than 16,000 applications submitted by tenants that are awaiting completion from the applicant’s landlord in order to be reviewed. Landlords have until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 15 to complete their portion of the application to be eligible for funding.
For renters who missed the window to apply for assistance through IHDA, the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) is currently accepting applications for rental assistance for as long as current funding is available. Households looking for assistance should contact an IDHS Service Provider Agency to ask about rental assistance. Provider Agencies will help you find out if you are eligible and help you apply for rental assistance. A list of Provider Agencies, as well as organizations offering assistance with utility bills, free legal aid, and additional services, can be found at: https://www.illinoisrentalassistance.org. Additional rounds of rental and mortgage assistance will also be announced in the coming months.
“The economic pain brought on by COVID-19 has impacted every Illinoisan, but no one has carried a burden larger than those least able to weather a financial hardship,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “That truth sits at the heart of our pandemic response. It’s why we were one of the most efficient states in the nation in 2020 at providing housing relief dollars to families in need, and it’s why we’re continuing that leadership in quickly getting rental assistance out the door in 2021.”
The Illinois Rental Payment Program provides up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent payments for tenants at risk of housing instability due to the pandemic. To date, IHDA has received 97,300 completed ILRPP applications from renters and landlords in 100 of Illinois’ 102 counties requesting over $940 million in aid. To date, IHDA has reviewed more than 70,000 applications, approved 26,323 applications, and paid out more than $209 million to renters experiencing hardships due to the pandemic for an average of $8,676 per household. Application approvals and payouts will continue to be announced as IHDA continues to review the pipeline of completed applications through the end of September.
“Per the U.S. Treasury, Illinois is a leader in ensuring that this vital assistance is getting out to the renters and landlords most in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said IHDA Executive Director Kristin Faust. “We know many landlords are struggling and want to raise awareness that there is still time to complete their application to be eligible for assistance. So please check your emails to ensure that you do not lose out on this assistance provided by the State of Illinois.”
Once IHDA begins processing an application for eligibility, the most significant delay is receiving the federally required documentation needed to approve funding. Of the 70,000 applications to go through an initial review, IHDA has identified 36,000 applications with incomplete or missing documentation (e.g., a government-issued ID, proof of household income, proof of address, or evidence of past-due rent). IHDA is in the process of emailing landlords and/or tenants detailing what is missing and a timeframe/process to submit the documentation to complete their application for processing.
“Keeping Illinois families housed is a significant goal for the State of Illinois,” said Grace B. Hou, Secretary, IDHS. “Home is what keeps family together during challenging times. We are partnering with community agencies to make sure landlords and vulnerable families receive the rental and utility assistance they need. When we invest in people and their homes, that is where communities begin.”
If a landlord has not responded to an application initiated by their tenant, IHDA is making two attempts (in addition to the automatically generated request and reminders that they receive from our application portal) to encourage them to participate and complete their section of the application. However, tenants are still eligible to receive assistance if their landlord remains unresponsive or declines to participate. In these cases, IHDA may make payments directly to the tenant.
To receive assistance directly, tenants will need to attend a rental counseling session provided by a HUD-approved agency, to provide IHDA with documentation certifying their completion of that session, and to submit proof of past-due rent to IHDA.
Tenants are responsible for scheduling their rental counseling session and can find a list of providers at: HSS HUD-Approved Housing Counseling Agency. To receive assistance, directly, tenants must complete these tasks by Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.
This initial funding was provided through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and additional rounds of assistance, including both rent and mortgage, will be announced later this fall. Tenants and landlords should continue to check their email (including spam folders) for any updates from IHDA regarding their application. To speak with an IHDA call center representative, please call (866) 454-3571 (toll free).
PRITZKER ADMINISTRATION LAUNCHES $10 MILLION GRANTS PROGRAM TO SUPPORT NEW AND EXISTING TOURISM ATTRACTIONS AND FESTIVALS ACROSS ILLINOIS
Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced a new $10 million grants program aimed at revitalizing the hard-hit tourism industry by bringing back new and returning tourism attractions and festivals to our state. The Tourism Attractions and Festivals Grant program is made possible with support of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and is part of a broader effort underway by the Pritzker administration to help reinvigorate tourism in Illinois and to put the industry on a path to economic recovery from COVID-19.
Through a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued today, tourism and festival businesses and entities can submit for grants of up to $1 million that may be used to establish and enhance tourism attractions or festivals planned for this year or next. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until funds are depleted with awards made quarterly and the department will have the ability to fund applications most closely aligned to eligibility criteria approved for immediate funding. To view the NOFO, please visit https://bit.ly/3fRxKgN.
“From our state parks to our famous drives to our world-renowned restaurants, wineries, and architecture, Illinois has earned our status as a major international destination for business and leisure travel,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “In partnership with the General Assembly, I’ve built an expanded tourism recovery grants program to help more of Illinois’ communities reclaim their piece of the pie. We’re bringing visitors back into our communities, supporting our hospitality & entertainment businesses, and helping to return more Illinois residents to the job – another step toward getting our state back on track.”
The Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant program will help develop new or enhance existing tourism attractions located across the state – including but not limited to museums, businesses, events, performances, and festivals. To maximize the impact of the program, DCEO will utilize ARPA federal recovery dollars to provide grants ranging from $10,000 to $1 million and will require a local match. The goal of the program is to attract additional visitors and overnight stays that will bring foot traffic back in communities across Illinois.
“Travel and tourism play a vital role in our Illinois economy, fueling hundreds of thousands of jobs and driving significant economic activity across our communities every year,” said Sylvia Garcia, Acting Director of the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). “To help the tourism industry with its continued recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois has launched a new $10 million program to help communities attract new and returning visitors to their attractions, events and festivals. Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, Illinois is focused on deploying resources to market the state and provide direct aid to tourism related businesses, which will boost spending, bring back jobs and keep Illinois front of mind as a top travel destination.”
Eligible applicants include units of local government, municipalities, county, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, or local promotions groups. The funds may be utilized for capital projects, equipment, training, transportation, housing, receptions, entertainment, photography, temporary housing, and interpretive programs, like exhibits and installations – to further develop new attractions and events to attract visitors to Illinois. In turn, these grants will result in increased visitor spending in local communities, generating revenue and creating jobs for Illinoisans.
“Illinois’ travel and tourism industry is an enormous economic and brand driver for the state,” said Dave Herrell, Chair, Illinois Council of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (ICCVB). “This investment announced today will further possibilities for communities to leverage and invigorate their respective destinations and tourism marketing efforts. Illinois must remain competitive in both leisure and business travel and continue to add value for the state’s visitor economy. These resources are yet another opportunity to enhance Illinois’ assets, create jobs, and showcase the state.”
Proposed attractions and festivals must demonstrate how this award will help businesses in the surrounding area and will be evaluated based on marketing value and ability to attract visitors for overnight stays. Projects will score higher based on proximity to commercial corridors and services – including hotels/motels, restaurants, retail, and other commercial operations. Attractions include but are not limited to: museums and cultural centers; theme/amusement parks; outdoor activities and recreation sites; and other facilities or businesses that attract or serve visitors.
This additional support for the tourism industry follows on the launch of a new campaign earlier this year to reinvigorate the industry and to support convention and visitor bureau (CVB) partners in attracting visitors back into all areas across the state. “Time for Me to Drive,” is the first new tourism campaign since COVID-19 hit last year and seizes on pent up travel demand – namely road trips–to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy Illinois’ diverse communities and scenic landscapes safely. The campaign encompasses over sixty unique itineraries – more information can be found at the State’s official tourism website, enjoyillinois.com.
A technical assistance webinar will be held on Wednesday, August 25, from 1 – 2 p.m. to explain application requirements, program eligibility and program guidelines. To sign up for the webinar, please visit this link.
From the outset, the Pritzker administration has prioritized tourism as an industry hit hard and early by the pandemic, ensuring resources are available to offset their losses. Through the State’s Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program, more than $75 million in grants have been directed to tourism related businesses. This is on top of $133 million provided to restaurants and bars – key tourism destinations in their own right – since the pandemic began.
For regular updates on funding opportunities and resources available for businesses and communities, please visit the DCEO website and follow us on social media @IllinoisDCEO.
Illinois Bills of Interest Signed into Law
HB 399, High Speed Rail Commission was signed into law. This bill creates the High-Speed Railway Commission Act. Prescribes the membership of the Commission. Provides that the Commission shall create a statewide plan for a high-speed rail line and feeder network connecting St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois that includes current existing Amtrak and Metra services, connects the cities of Rockford, Moline, Peoria, and Decatur, and uses inter-city bus service to coordinate with the rail line. Provides that the Commission shall conduct a ridership study and shall make findings and recommendations concerning a governance structure, the frequency of service, and implementation of the plan. Provides that the Commission shall report to the General Assembly and the Governor no later than December 31 of each year.
SB 1767, Prevailing Wage Public Search was signed into law. This bill provides that beginning January 1, 2022, the Department of Labor shall make accessible to the public on its website by the 16th day of each month following the month the work was performed the following information from certified payrolls submitted under this Act: each worker’s classification or classifications, skill level, such as apprentice or journeyman, gross wages paid in each pay period, number of hours worked each day, starting and ending times of work each day, hourly wage rate, hourly overtime wage rate, and hourly fringe benefit rate. Provides that the database shall be searchable by contractor name, project name, county in which the work is performed, and contracting public body.
SB 1089, Construction Debris was signed into law. This bill provides that an owner or operator of a general construction or demolition debris recovery facility shall ensure that no less than 40% of the total general construction or demolition debris is received at the facility (rather than shall, at a minimum, recycle 40% of the total general construction or demolition debris) on a rolling 12-month average basis. Provides an exemption from causing or allowing the deposit of any general construction or demolition debris that is received at a general construction or demolition debris recovery facility if the clean construction or demolition debris is used as fill or road construction material at the clean construction or demolition debris fill operation if the clean construction or demolition debris is separated and managed separately from other general construction or demolition debris and otherwise meets the requirements applicable to clean construction or demolition debris at a clean construction or demolition debris fill operation(rather than if the general construction or demolition debris (i) meets the definition of clean construction or demolition debris in specified provisions and (ii) has been returned to the economic mainstream in the form of a raw material or product). Provides that an exemption from a subtitle D management fee shall not apply to general construction or demolition debris recovery facilities.
HB 665, Entrepreneur Assistance Center was signed into law. This bill Requires the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to establish and support, subject to appropriation, entrepreneurship assistance centers, including the issuance of grants, at career education agencies and not-for-profit corporations. Provides criteria for the selection and designation of centers. Provides requirements for the establishment and operation of each center. Provides requirements for grant applicants.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry