Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
We’re back to a mask mandate for all regardless of vaccination status beginning this upcoming Monday, August 30th. Read below for more details on this announcement and an additional vaccination announcement from the Governor.
The application for the $250 million State of Illinois Back to Business (B2B) Grant Program is now open! B2B offers small businesses access to funds that can help offset losses due to COVID-19, bring back workers, and continue to rebuild from the pandemic.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*
Governor Pritzker Announces Indoor Mask Mandate, COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement for Healthcare Workers, Pre-K-12 Teachers and Staff, Higher Education Personnel and Students to Slow Spread of Delta Variant
Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ezike announced a statewide indoor mask mandate for all Illinois residents, regardless of vaccination status, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates continue to increase. The masking requirements are effective Monday, August 30th.
As COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates across the state continue to increase, particularly in downstate communities with the lowest vaccination rates, Governor JB Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike announced vaccination requirements for individuals in high-risk settings. All healthcare workers, including nursing home employees, all pre-k-12 teachers and staff, as well as higher education personnel and students will now be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees in all of these settings and higher education students who are unable or unwilling to receive the vaccine will be required to get tested for COVID-19 at least once per week, and DPH and ISBE may require increased testing in certain situations.
The public health requirements come as regions with low vaccination rates continue to see a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. In IDPH region 5, Southern Illinois, with the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 44 percent, only 3% of ICU beds are available as the region experiences the highest case rate in the state. Since August 1st, local health departments across the state have reported 27 COVID-19 outbreaks at schools and currently hundreds of schools are being monitored for potential COVID-19 exposures.
“The quick spread of this disease in Illinois and across the country is holding us all back from the post-pandemic life we so desperately want to embrace, and it’s harming the most vulnerable among us,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We are running out of time as our hospitals run out of beds. Vaccination remains our strongest tool to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to restore post-pandemic life to our communities, and most crucially, to maintain our healthcare system’s ability to care for anyone who walks through their doors in need of help – and Illinois is taking action to keep our communities safe.”
“Unlike the wave of COVID-19 we saw earlier this Spring, we’re now seeing our hospital resources stretched thin with some areas of Illinois reduced to only a handful of available ICU beds,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “The vast majority of hospitalizations, as well as cases and deaths, are among those who are unvaccinated. This has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We have safe, proven, and effective tools to turn the tide and end this pandemic. But until more people are vaccinated, masks are the order of the day and will help us slow the spread of the virus.”
Get Ready for Boosters
The plan to deliver booster shots across the country took key turns on Wednesday as vaccine manufacturers plan for additional doses and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said its vaccine data shows strengthened immunity to fight COVID-19 after a second dose.
The booster vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech will begin to be administered two months earlier than initially described by administration officials — at six months instead of eight months for millions of Americans this year, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Booster doses of all three vaccines, including J&J, will likely begin to be administered in less than a month in the United States. J&J announced that preliminary data shows a nine-fold increase in antibodies generated in comparison to those detected 28 days after individuals receive their initial COVID-19 shot.
“Significant increases in binding antibody responses were observed in participants between ages 18 and 55, and in those 65 years and older who received a lower booster dose,” J&J said as it seeks federal authorization for fully vaccinated people to get a reinforcing jab. The drugmaker added that it was “engaging” with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a push to get approval in the near term.
Days after the FDA licensed Pfizer’s vaccine, inoculation mandates (and pressure points) continued to spread. Delta Air Lines on Wednesday announced that employees who remain unvaccinated will be required to pay a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge and could lose pay protection if they miss time from work due to the virus.
The $200 monthly charge for unvaccinated workers who are a part of the airline’s healthcare plan “will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, wrote in a letter to employees
U.S. Jobless Claims Rise but Hold Near Pandemic Low
The number of workers applying for and receiving unemployment benefits has reached pandemic lows over the past month, a sign the job-market recovery remains on sound footing despite uncertainty surrounding the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Unemployment claims edged up to 353,000 last week from a revised 349,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility in the weekly figures, fell to 366,500 last week, a new pandemic low.
Continuing claims for regular state programs, a proxy for the number of people receiving benefits, have also recently declined to pandemic lows. About 2.86 million people were collecting unemployment benefits through state programs in the week ended Aug. 14, down slightly from 2.87 million a week earlier and the lowest level since March 2020.
The claims figures are consistent with other data that indicate the job-market recovery is continuing. Employers added 943,000 jobs in July, the best gain in 11 months, according to the Labor Department, which also said job openings reached a record level at the end of June.
Separately, the Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew at a 6.6% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the second quarter of the year, an upward revision from the department’s first estimate of 6.5%. The upward revision reflected higher estimates for business investment and exports, the department said.
So far, state and local governments have resisted imposing strict limits on business activity, helping to minimize the Delta variant’s economic impact, according to economists.
Governor Pritzker Announces New Initiative to Improve Transportation Infrastructure, Save Taxpayer Dollars
Building on his historic, bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital plan that invests $45 billion in the state’s roads, bridges, railways and other critical projects over the next six years, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 253 into law. The legislation requires the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to establish and implement a transportation performance program to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s transportation system.
Under HB 253, IDOT will also develop a statewide highway system asset management plan with the goal of preserving and improving the conditions of highway and bridge assets and enhance the existing system while reducing costs. To maximize the effectiveness of taxpayer dollars, going forward, IDOT will develop a performance-based project selection process to ensure existing transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges remain in good repair. The bill passed both the House and Senate with unanimous, bipartisan support.
“I’m proud that Illinois is a supply chain hub for the nation and this administration is committed to investing in our infrastructure to ensure we maintain that vital role. Through the Rebuild Illinois Capital plan – the largest infrastructure investment in Illinois’ history – we’re fixing roads and bridges across the state, creating jobs and opportunities in our communities,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “This legislation will empower the hardworking team at IDOT to ensure those investments go as far as possible. And by establishing a performance-based project selection process, the administration is doubling-down on our commitment to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
“Illinois is the transportation hub of North America. With the distinction comes a huge responsibility that we are investing resources equitably, fairly and in locations where they make the most sense and do the most good,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman. “Thanks to Gov. Pritzker’s vision and the support of the General Assembly, we are making historic improvements in our transportation system with Rebuild Illinois. Now we will have even more tools that will strengthen our project-selection process and make it more transparent.”
Beginning January 1, 2022, IDOT will be required to select projects for inclusion in their multi-year plan based on a selection process that weighs a variety of factors including congestion mitigation or improved traffic operations, economic development, livability, environmental impact, accessibility, and safety.
HB 253 is effective immediately.
Illinois unemployment trust fund facing $5B deficit with few solutions
Illinois unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund is in dire straights after the COVID-19 pandemic send millions to unemployment lines seemingly instantaneously. The UI trust fund is a pool of money that employers pay into. Unemployment benefits come out of this pool of money.
Before the pandemic, the trust fun was at a surplus of around $2.2 billion. But that quickly plummeted when COVID-19 burst onto the scene. When asked how to quantify the catastrophic level the fund is now at, Chief Executive Officer of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) Rob Karr, who is also the point person for joint businesses in Illinois, said, “It’s hard to do other than just saying it’s double the worst than it’s ever been.”
According to documents acquired from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), the biggest deficit was $2.36 billion in 2009 because of the Great Recession. By the end of 2021, it will be between $4.37 billion and $4.97 billion, more than double the worse than it was 12 years ago.
That would be about a $7 billion swing from the surplus the state had just 18 months ago. “It’s historic. We’ve never seen this swing or been so deep in the hole,” Karr said.
One solution is to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to pay down the debt, something lawmakers chose not to do in this year’s budget. “There is still a substantial sum of the ARPA money left and that is certainly an item that is on the agenda as a potential use,” said Chicago Democrat and majority leader Rep. Greg Harris in June.
Senator Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, and many other lawmakers have another solution. “I think it is going to take help from the federal government,” said Holmes, who is also the chair for the Senate Labor Committee. “There is no one state that can fix this.”
If those two things don’t happen, Karr said there are really only two other fixes. “The only other solutions are that you have to increase taxes on employers, you have to cut benefits for unemployed workers or both,” Karr said. If the fund stays at a deficit the state will have to pay $50-60 million in interest every year.
Karr said the fund has to stop hemorrhaging money and one way to do that is to get as many people back to work as fast as possible. Karr said if the governor and IDES makes claimants prove they are looking for work, a practice that used to be required but was stopped because of the pandemic, it would help accomplish that goal. He said raising taxes on employers would be crippling.
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry