Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”

Chamber members:

Back to Business Grant deadline nears as the last chance to apply is 11:59 PM on October 13. As part of Governor JB Pritzker’s overall economic recovery strategy, the $250 million Back to Business (B2B) grant program aims to deploy small businesses recovery grants for those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. The B2B grant program builds on the success of last year’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program – an equity focused business relief program, which directed $290 million to 9,000 businesses in 98 communities across Illinois. B2B is a key component of the Governor’s $1.5 billion economic recovery plan, aimed toward a swift and equitable deployment of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds that have been designated for Illinois to assist in recovery from the COVID pandemic.

Here is the link to the B2B grant page:

We’re working within our statewide coalition of chambers on a new platform for the next year, but here is an update on covid liability: the number of COVID-related claims filed in the state since March 2020 says that more than 8,200 claims, or 18.5 percent of FIRST REPORT OF INJURY cases, are COVID-related with more than half filed in 2020. The number seems to have risen in July/August 2021 that is likely tied to the Delta variant. Nearly 70 percent are in the health care/social work fields.

*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital*

Senate reaches deal on short-term debt hike into December
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday that he had reached an agreement with Republicans to extend the debt ceiling into December. “We have reached an agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December,” Schumer said. Senators could vote on the deal as soon as Thursday.

The agreement, according to a Senate aide, would increase the debt ceiling by $480 billion, which based on Treasury Department estimates would extend the debt ceiling until Dec. 3. Schumer didn’t provide specifics on the size of the debt hike, something he and Republicans were haggling over on Wednesday night.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed during a floor speech that they had reached a deal. “The Senate is moving toward the plan I laid out last night to spare the American people from an unprecedented crisis,” he said. “The pathway our Democratic colleagues have accepted will spare the American people any near-term crisis,” McConnell added.

In order to vote on Thursday, every senator would have to agree to speed up the agreement, otherwise it could be dragged out into the weekend. GOP aides indicated on Thursday that it was still possible that conservatives could require the deal to overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle.

That would require at least 10 GOP senators to help advance the debt ceiling deal, even if they ultimately voted against it on final passage. Any one senator could require that the bill get 60 votes to advance.

The deal has already sparked backlash from former President Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally and the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

“I do not support the Democrats’ reconciliation package and I do not support raising the debt limit to make that level of spending possible. If Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling they can use the reconciliation process,” Graham said in a statement.

McConnell, as part of the offer from Republicans, said that they would help expedite the reconciliation process if Democrats decided to raise the debt ceiling on their own through the budget rules that let them bypass a filibuster. He also said that Republicans would let Democrats pass a short-term debt hike as long as the short-term extension was to a specific number and not a day.

McConnell, on Thursday, argued that by supporting a short-term extension that would push the debt ceiling into early December, Republicans were defanging a top Democratic complaint that they didn’t have enough time to raise the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation.

Congress has until Oct. 18 to raise the debt ceiling and avert a historic default. The Senate agreement would need to be passed by the House before being sent to President Biden.

***Update: Senate Republicans are taking a close look at the debt limit deal announced Thursday morning between Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and a group of conservatives are complaining to their colleague that they gave Democrats an easy way out.

Several Senate Republican sources said members of their caucus were “surprised and disappointed” when McConnell unveiled the parameters of the deal with Schumer on Wednesday.

One GOP senator said “you could hear a pin drop” when McConnell shared the details of his plan to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling to “a fixed number” without having to undergo the arduous process of amending the 2022 budget resolution and holding multiple time-consuming vote-a-ramas on the Senate floor.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said some of his GOP colleagues were thrown for a loop because 46 Senate Republicans signed a letter in August warning Schumer they “will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, whether that increase comes through a stand-alone bill, a continuing resolution, or any other vehicle.”

“I’m not surprised that they are a little surprised and disappointed, because of course 46 Republicans signed a letter saying they wouldn’t vote for an increase,” he said. “I think they feel like maybe we could have pushed it a little longer.”

“The problem is the Republican members feel like we’re blinking and blinking a little earlier than might be necessary,” he added. He said the upcoming weeklong Columbus Day recess, which is scheduled to begin this weekend, “probably entered into the calculation” to strike a deal.

***Update 2: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Thursday that 10 GOP senators will ultimately help advance a short-term debt hike, but predicted a painful process amid private haggling. “In the end we’ll be there, but it’s going to be a painful birthing process,” Thune said, asked about Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) ability to 10 GOP votes to advance the debt ceiling hike.

GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are requiring that the debt hike legislation, which would increase the nation’s borrowing limit, overcome a filibuster, meaning it will require 60 votes to end debate on the bill.

***Final Update: The Senate has locked in a deal to pass a short-term debt ceiling extension on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) finalized the agreement to hold up to four hours of debate on the debt ceiling extension, followed by a key procedural hurdle to end debate on the bill, which will require 60 votes, around 7:30 p.m.

If they overcome that hurdle, the Senate would then move directly to a vote to pass the short-term debt extension, a move that will only require a simple majority.

Falling Unemployment Could Add to Worries About the U.S. Labor Market
Many economists would welcome a small rise in the unemployment rate. They are troubled by the rate’s swift decline from its pandemic peak because it partly reflects a lack of job seekers—effectively limiting the amount of fuel in the economy’s engine.

The Labor Department’s official unemployment rate—the most well-known gauge of the labor market’s health—counts as unemployed only those who aren’t working but are actively seeking a job. That leaves out millions who stopped working and looking for work since the coronavirus hit the economy in early 2020, leaving many businesses struggling to hire.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal estimate that the department’s September employment report, to be released on Friday, will show the jobless rate edged down again, to 5.1% from 5.2% in August and from nearly 15% in the spring of last year.

A September drop would be good news if it primarily reflects job growth. The economists estimate that employers added 485,000 jobs to payrolls last month, which would be a pickup from August but not as large as the monthly gains of early summer. But the decline would be worrisome if it is also due to potential workers staying on the sidelines.

In Friday’s report, economists will be closely watching the labor-force participation rate, or the share of adults working or seeking work. It has held at or below 61.7% since April, well down from 63.4% in January 2020.

Employers have hired millions of Americans after cutting more than 20 million jobs last year during the depths of the coronavirus downturn. But the U.S. labor force also has 3 million fewer people overall than at the end of 2019. “We’re a point now that if the unemployment rate goes up, that would be a sign of a healthier economy,” said Nela Richardson, an economist at the human-resources software firm Automatic Data Processing Inc. “I’d like to see that number go up, in the short term, because it would show that people on the sidelines of the labor market think it’s safe and want to go back to work.”

The unemployment rate is above the 50-year low of 3.5% in February 2020, but below its historical average and expected to fall further in the coming months. Federal Reserve officials project a 4.8% rate by the end of the year. By comparison, the rate was 5% or higher from the mid-1970s to late 1990s.

Friday’s report will also be closely watched for the pace of job creation. About 1 million jobs were added to payrolls in both June and July, according to the Labor Department. Then hiring slowed sharply in August, to a payroll gain of 235,000, as restaurants, retailers and some other in-person employers cut jobs as the Delta variant spread. In August, the economy had 5.3 million fewer jobs than it did in February 2020.

Demand for workers remains strong. At the end of July, there was a record 10.9 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., according to the Labor Department. And last month, seasonal factors and a slight easing of labor-supply constraints due to benefits ending and schools opening likely caused restaurants and other hospitality businesses’ payrolls to grow, said Greg Daco, economist at Oxford Economics.

“But just as some of the constraints with schools and benefits began to ease, the health situation worsened, imposing a new constraint,” he said.

Friday’s report is based on surveys taken in early September, when Covid-19 cases tied to the Delta variant were near their peak. That could have held back stronger hiring during the month. Cases have eased in the weeks since, which could support better gains later in the year.

“I’m more optimistic that workers will return in October and November, and that will allow more employers to fill jobs,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at financial-services company Northern Trust, adding it will likely take three to six months before labor-force participation returns to near pre-pandemic levels. “We had such immense early progress in bringing back jobs that it became easy to forget that the last mile was always going to be the hardest,” he said.

Pritzker still won’t point to benchmark to end mask mandates
The governor still has not given an exact benchmark for when he’ll lift the statewide mask mandate. Gov. J.B. Pritzker had an indoor mask mandate in place for more than a year until he let the order expire in May. He then re-instituted a mask mandate in July for all indoor gatherings. On Monday, he couldn’t say what the benchmark would be to lift the mandate.

“We’re watching to make sure that we’re on a good downward trajectory. That’s what we were looking for back in May leading into June, that’s what we’re looking, for now, to possibly make changes,” Pritzker said.

Illinois is one of 12 states and territories in the U.S. with an indoor mask mandate for everyone, regardless of vaccination, according to U.S. News and World Report. The majority of states don’t have a mandate, including Illinois’ neighbors.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said he sees very little compliance in his district. “I’m just not sure what it says, other than evidently the governor has some information that nobody else has, or very few people have,” Halbrook said. Halbrook said the indoor mandate should be done away with.

The only thing Pritzker can point to for when he’ll lift that mandate is whatever comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When asked about mask mandates, Pritzker Monday said for schools he’s following recommendations from the CDC.

Judge rules for NorthPoint on Elwood bridge
A Will County judge on Tuesday issued a ruling that could pave the way for NorthPoint Development to build the bridge it wants for the future Compass Global Logistics Hub.

Judge Theodore Jarz ruled that Elwood is obligated by a 2007 agreement to file documents needed to pursue state approval for a bridge over Route 53 at Walter Strawn Road. The village of Elwood has tried to block both the bridge and the industrial park that NorthPoint wants to build.

The 1,360-acre development would be annexed to Joliet but would stretch to the Elwood border. The Joliet annexation agreement requires NorthPoint to build a bridge over Route 53 as part of a closed-loop plan to keep trucks off the highway before the Compass Global Logistics Hub could be built.

NorthPoint wants to build the bridge at Walter Strawn Road but has been impeded by Elwood. The village owns the road and would have to file supporting documents for NorthPoint to make its case for the bridge before the Illinois Commerce Commission

The developer argued that Elwood was obligated by the 2007 agreement made with CenterPoint Properties, previously owner of land now in possession of NorthPoint, to extend Walter Strawn Road east across Route 53 and expand access to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center.

Elwood argued in court that the agreement was made solely for a traditional intersection and never contemplated a bridge. The village argued that NorthPoint was seeking a court ruling that would force NorthPoint to go beyond the village’s intent in the agreement. But access to Walter Strawn Road since 2007 has been blocked by an ICC ruling sought by Elwood because of hazards at the railroad crossing just west of Route 53. Walter Strawn Road is barricaded at the crossing.

Jarz in his ruling said that intersection improvements do not exclude bridges or other elevated crossings, which he noted were not specifically excluded in the 2007 agreement. “While it is certainly common that roadways have their intersection at the same grade level, many intersect by means of bridges, cloverleafs, traffic circles or viaducts at separated grade levels,” Jarz wrote.

Jarz said Elwood remained obligated to provide access to Walter Strawn Road east of Route 53 once the road was blocked at the railroad crossing. “There is no language in the agreement that bars further proposals for connecting the roads if one proposal fails,” the judge wrote.

Jarz said Elwood’s arguments that a bridge for the NorthPoint development would create safety issues for the village was a matter to be decided by the Illinois Commerce Commission and Illinois Department of Transportation.

The village’s efforts to block the bridge have drawn widespread attention as NorthPoint sought to bypass Elwood in a campaign to persuade Gov. JB Pritzker to pursue a state takeover of Walter Strawn Road, which the governor has refused to do.

Congressman Bill Foster Announces Virtual Office Hours
This Saturday, October 9 from 9:30am – 11:30am CT, Congressman Foster will be hosting virtual office hours via Zoom. Virtual office hours are an opportunity for you to meet with him, get updates on work in Congress, share concerns, and ask questions. Each meeting will last 15-20 minutes.

Sign up now for an appointment by filling out this form:

Once you have submitted your request, staff will reach out to schedule your appointment as times become available. You will then be provided with a Zoom link and instructions for joining.

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct