Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Only four days left to go in the General Assembly’s legislative session and there are two big issues at play: public safety and the state’s budget. This is scheduled to be the last week of session down in Springfield and from scheduled projects at the capitol building, it just may hold true. As I sit typing this, nothing formally has been shared as for the budget so it will probably come fast and a few late nights will be in play.
Make sure to read through as there is a number of new items to update on after a week off.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
Lawmakers are scheduled to end their session this week, but could stay longer
Illinois lawmakers are set to wrap up their session this week, but there’s still a lot to be done. If lawmakers don’t finish everything on their list before the scheduled end to session, there are a few options for how they can get it all done, including staying in Springfield for a few more days.
The biggest task is already completed: allocating billions in federal pandemic money. Democrats have also introduced tax relief plans and parts of a larger crime package, but nothing has been finalized.
One of the legislature’s most important duties is to assemble a budget for the state — a spending plan to fund state agencies, grant programs and social service groups. The budget still hasn’t been brought up on the floors. Last year, lawmakers passed the state’s budget in the early-morning hours on the final day of their legislative session. Throughout the past several weeks, appropriation committees have held hearings with representatives of various state agencies to discuss their financial needs. These talks inform the budget-making process that will eventually culminate in a spending plan.
Lawmakers could extend their session and come back in the summer, but then they run in to more deadlines. “It just gets harder once people leave to get them back into town,” said former UIS politics professor Kent Redfield. “There certainly would be an option of coming back in the end of June or early July and doing some kind of cleanup.”
After the end of May it takes a 3/5 vote for anything to pass and go into effect immediately. This is specified in the Illinois constitution. That means the margins would end up a lot closer on some of the more controversial bills. Redfield says he believes lawmakers will try to get everything done sooner rather than later, but with politics, you never know for sure. We’re seeing this rush to the finish because the primary elections were moved to June, so many lawmakers want to go back to their districts to campaign.
Tax Items Introduced
Senate Democrats on Friday announced what they hope will be one aspect of the budget. Coming as part of multiple (eight to be exact) amendments to SB 1150, their “tax relief” plan includes provisions to issue a $100 tax refund to every Illinois taxpayer who earns less than $250,000 annually. The plan would issue $200 checks to couples filing jointly with annual incomes of less than $500,000 and an additional $50 refund per dependent up to $150.
“This plan gets money back in the hands of consumers. They’ve endured through this pandemic. It’s time for the state to pay it forward,” said Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, who introduced the tax refund amendment.
The plan includes eight different tax breaks aimed at reducing the tax burden on Illinois residents. These include a six month moratorium on both a planned motor fuel tax increase and the 1% state sales tax on groceries, a one-time tax credit for homeowners up to $300, a week long pause on sales tax for back-to-school supplies from Aug. 5 to Aug. 14, an expansion to the state’s earned income tax credit, a $250 tax credit to teachers on school supplies bought for their classrooms and a tax credit of up to $500 for volunteer first responders.
“Through responsible budgeting the state has wiped out deficits and paid our bills. Now is the time to pay it forward and get money back to taxpayers,” said Bennett. The homeowner tax credit and pause on motor fuel tax increase are both modeled on proposals that Gov. JB Pritzker made in his annual budget address in February. Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, was quick to respond to the Democratic plan, criticizing its timing and scope. “Under their plan, checks and relief will arrive right before the election and then will expire right after the election,” said McConchie. “This is not the real reform the people of this state want and need, and Illinoisans will see right through this disingenuous gimmick.”
Each of the amendments can be found here. SFA 1 was filed by Senator Bennett, SFA 2 and SFA 3 was filed by Senator Sims. SFA 4 was filed by Senator Gillespie. SFA 5 was filed by Senator Hastings. SFA 6 was filed by Senator Aquino. SFA 7 was filed by Senator Holmes. SFA 8 was filed by Senator Belt.
Democrats have unveiled a crime package
On Friday, Democrats from the House and Senate unveiled a plan which they say will reduce crime by address that are both the effects and root causes of violence. “I lost my son to gun violence in the summer of 2014, when I was nine months’ pregnant with my daughter,” said Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, when discussing the package at a Friday press conference.
Gordon-Booth introduced an amendment to HB 1360, which would create a co-responder pilot program in East St. Louis, Peoria, Springfield and Waukegan. These pilot programs would employ social workers to go with police to respond to 911 calls for mental health crises, substance use issues and calls involving the homeless. Urbana, Rockford and Chicago have all rolled out co-responder programs in recent years.
The package also includes an amendment to HB 4736, introduced by Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, which would create a Crime Reduction Task Force, a new anonymous crime reporting hotline and would expand the state’s witness protection program. Another bill, SB 4203 would allocate $20 million to the witness protection program and $1 million to the anonymous tip line.
Finally, SB 4203 from Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, the plan would include a $185.3 million increase in funding distributed across various state programs, including early childhood education, the teen pregnancy services program Parents Too Soon and after school programming among others.
“It’s especially important to me that marginalized populations have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else,” Villanueva said. “I take great care to make sure our underserved communities have equitable access to the resources they so critically need to target disparity at its source.”
When pressed on the price tag for these new programs, Peters said the final amounts are still being negotiated and may change next week. An increase in certain types of crimes has been a major talking point throughout this legislative session, particularly from Republicans, who introduced several packages of bills which included a range of provisions, including one from Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, which would have repealed major elements of the criminal justice reform bill passed by the legislature in 2021. Despite support from the leadership of the Republican party, these bills never gained any support from members of the Democratic majority.
The latest proposals quickly drew the ire of Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, on the House floor. She listed a number of concerns Republicans have long cited about the SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform that Democrats passed in January. She said the concerns were unaddressed in the Democratic-backed bills.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, also criticized the SAFE-T Act in response to the Democrat-backed proposals. “Democrats in Illinois have repeatedly attacked our police and justice system,” he said in a statement. “Today, they are trying to rewrite history. Until they wake up and repeal their pro-criminal SAFE-T Act, there will be no safe communities in Illinois.”
But Jim Kaitschuk, of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said the Monday proposals were separate from the SAFE-T Act. Members of the ISA have been some of the staunchest opponents of the SAFE-T Act. “This wasn’t about the SAFE-T Act,” he said after Monday’s news conference. “This was about efforts to recruit and retain. And this has been a – it hasn’t been just one thing that caused the issues in terms of recruitment and retention. Back in the 90s, we had a lot of federal funding that came to hire officers, those officers – one, the funding went away, and two, those officers are obviously, they’re my age, so they’re retirement age, so they’ve moved on to other careers and retired.” The measures laid out Monday are a message from lawmakers “that we do care about law enforcement,” Kaitschuk said, making recruitment and retainment easier.
Illinois received $8 billion in COVID relief money; this is how it’s being spent
The Illinois General Assembly recently approved spending $2.7 billion to reduce part of $4.5 billion of debt in the unemployment insurance trust fund, the fund that pays for unemployment insurance benefits.
The money came from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden just over one year ago, in March 2021. Illinois has received $8.1 billion of the funds aimed at providing the state relief from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
As a recap from previous roundup editions, the plan to pay down unemployment insurance debt, SB 2803, was signed into law by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on March 25. It passed in the Senate the day before on a partisan 39-16 vote and passed in the House 68-43. The state’s Office of Management and Budget said about $800 million of ARPA money remains unspent and unallocated.
Democrats have lauded the spending plan as a move toward fiscal responsibility, Republicans have accused the majority party of squandering the ARPA funds on “pet projects.” Where did the money go?
The $2.7 billion fight
The plan to direct $2.7 billion toward the unemployment insurance obligation became a partisan fight with Republicans staunchly opposed to the measure, saying that it didn’t go far enough to pay down the debt.
“This bill pays for pet projects for the Democrats,” said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, during the debate. Several other House and Senate Republicans levied similar claims. Butler also criticized the governor for what he said was a slight at Republicans saying that some people would be barred from “seats at the grown-up’s table” during budget negotiations. “Tonight with this vote, this side of the aisle is the grown-up’s table,” said Butler.
Democrats defended the state’s use of ARPA money. “ARPA dollars have been used to keep daycares open, to keep people in their homes, to provide cash to small businesses on the brink of disaster, many of which were shut out of the federal small business lending program,” said Pritzker before signing the unemployment insurance trust fund appropriation bill.
Independent analysts have praised the decision. “Overall, I think the state’s decision to use ARPA for replenishing the deficit in the unemployment insurance trust fund was fiscally wise and prudent,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonprofit research group.
Msall said the move, in addition to the ongoing “agreed bill process” to develop a plan for the remaining $1.8 billion in debt will help reinforce the state’s recently improved credit rating. A good credit rating makes it easier for the state to borrow money. “Illinois is not in a position to add more stress to its budget,” said Msall.
State, local tally: $25 billion
The Office of Management and Budget estimates that Illinois will receive $25 billion of federal ARPA money. The total includes money flowing directly to agencies and local governments, such as $5.5 billion allocated to local school districts through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. But the state received $8.127 billion in funds that the governor and legislature could allocate as needed. “That amount of money coming into the state of Illinois, that $8.1 billion, is unprecedented,” said Msall.
Throughout the spring of 2021, shortly after ARPA was passed, the governor and legislature began appropriating funds for various projects. The largest portion of ARPA dollars allocated in 2021 went to one-time capital infrastructure projects. All told, $1 billion of spending was dedicated to broadband and sewer infrastructure projects.
These included direct grants to local governments around Illinois. Lake County was allocated $122 million for regional stormwater management projects, with other recipients including Belleville, Bolingbrook, DuPage County, Calumet Park and Champaign, among more than 40 others. The Sangamon County Water Reclamation District got $4 million for infrastructure improvements, though the city of Springfield didn’t receive this kind of funding.
The “Back to Business” grant program was the second-largest area of spending, according to records from the governor’s office. As of March, small businesses around the state have received over two-thirds or 67% of the $250 million.
About 14% or $380 million of the ARPA money went directly to support the state’s response to the pandemic. It included funding the Illinois Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to buy personal protective equipment as well as setting up vaccination and testing sites. It also included $7 million to the Illinois Lottery, which operated the “vaccination lottery” in 2021.
Pritzker pitches $535M in new ARPA spending
As part of Pritzker’s annual budget address, the governor laid out a proposed fiscal year 2023 budget which includes $535 million in new ARPA spending — $235 million toward violence prevention grants and $300 million to support COVID-19 related programs at the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services, according to Carol Knowles, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget
The state’s final budget has yet to be approved but lawmakers must vote on it before the General Assembly ends April 8. The budget also includes $1.5 billion of ARPA spending that was approved in the 2022 budget.
Among the provisions are $50 million for substance abuse prevention and mental health block grants, $11.6 million to “support rural transit districts,” $5 million for technology infrastructure,” according to the governor’s budget proposal.
It also includes allocations to various private and public programs. These reappropriations and grants range in amounts from $75,000 for a program aimed at helping former prisoners in Champaign-Urbana to a $12 million allocation for Parents Too Soon, a state-run program to provide services to teenage parents.
Some other programs receiving reappropriations include $2.5 million to support disadvantaged and urban farmers, $500,000 to Violence Interrupters, $500,000 to small businesses micro-loans, and $250,000 to Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change among others.
Illinois Policymakers Should Support Small Businesses
The pandemic and COVID-19 mitigations began inflicting immense damage to small businesses in March 2020. Thousands of small businesses initially applied for Illinois Business Interruption Grants. While these grants helped some small businesses, approximately 80% of applicants were not awarded a grant.
Illinois then received over $8 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds. However, only $250 million was allocated to the new grant program for struggling small businesses. These funds will likely be exhausted before many eligible businesses receive grants. With billions of ARPA funds remaining, policymakers should allocate an additional $300 million for grants to struggling small businesses.
Illinois politicians should finish what they started. They should replenish the Back to Business grant program and promptly get funds to struggling small businesses, some of whom have waited almost two years for a grant to help offset the damage caused by the pandemic and mitigations established to curb the spread of COVID-19.
HB5489 addresses this item. Please fill out the call to action below and ask your legislators to support struggling small businesses.
U.S. House readies relief package for restaurants, other industries
The House might vote this week on a small-business pandemic aid package that would provide $42 billion for additional restaurant relief and $13 billion for other “hard hit” industries.
The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet on the revised bill Tuesday afternoon, which indicates floor action soon after. Democratic leaders are whipping the bill to see if there are enough votes to pass it, according to a source familiar with the planning who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
The restaurant and hard-hit business grant funding would be offset by “all funds rescinded, seized, reclaimed, or otherwise returned” from various programs in prior pandemic relief laws. It was not immediately clear if that would score as a full or partial offset for the $55 billion in total funding.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said in an interview Friday that he has been working with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for months to provide additional aid to restaurants and other small businesses that were not able to access previous pandemic relief programs. Speaking a few hours before the bill was released, Phillips said he was hopeful for a vote and that there would be bipartisan support given the measure is offset with recaptured fraudulent awards.
“We under-appropriated to begin with,” Phillips said. “So this is about a make-good and not picking winners and losers. And that notion is picking up some steam, recognizing this is not a prospective COVID relief bill. This is a retrospective make-good.”
Other sectors the group wrote that are deserving of aid include live events venues and planners, hotels and fitness centers. Phillips said aid recipients could also include the motor coach industry and minor league baseball teams, though the new House bill doesn’t specify.
The new $42 billion appropriation for restaurants in the House bill is meant to backfill the Restaurant Relief Fund after the original $28.6 billion Democrats provided in their 2021 pandemic relief law ran out with only one-third of businesses that applied for grants receiving funds.
The $42 billion is expected to be enough to provide grants to the other two-thirds of restaurants and bars that qualified for the funding. But the bill includes language saying that if there’s not enough money to provide full grants to each eligible business, the awards should be reduced by an equal percentage so all approved applicants get some funding. Restaurants and bars must certify that they are still operating or plan to reopen within 6 months to receive any grant funding.
Although the bill does not reopen the Restaurant Relief Fund to new applicants, it requires the Small Business Administration to provide an explanation to those who were previously denied and gives those businesses an opportunity to reapply.
The bill would require the Small Business Administration to conduct oversight and audits of all grant recipients, including those who received awards under the initial $28.6 billion, and report back to Congress.
The other $13 billion in the bill is for a new grant program called the Hard Hit Industries Award Program for businesses that have not received grants or forgivable loans under prior pandemic relief laws.
Businesses would qualify for tax-exempt awards, capped at $1 million per business, if they employ 200 or fewer employees and have suffered a pandemic-related revenue loss of at least 40 percent. The bill says first priority should go to businesses whose loss was greater than 80 percent and second priority to those with losses greater than 60 percent, with businesses that have 50 or fewer employees being considered first in both categories.
The measure excludes certain businesses, including publicly traded companies and those owned or operated by a private equity fund, from qualifying for the hard-hit business grants. It would also require administrative oversight of the grant program and reports to Congress.
The bill also extends the available time for businesses that were previously awarded forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program or grants under the Shuttered Venue Operators program to spend their awards to March 17, 2023, although it provides Small Business Administration with authority to extend that further.
This will likely be the last vote Congress takes on RRF replenishment, and we owe it to 11,000+ Illinois operators that were shut out of RRF to give it everything we’ve got. The IRA and National Restaurant Association are starting a new grassroots activation campaign to generate strong bipartisan support for the RRF. Will you join them?
Please take a moment to share your story with Congress by clicking on the link below. It takes less than a minute to make your voice heard. Win or lose, we cannot let this opportunity pass us by.
Affordable Care Act Subsidies
Some people unable to afford health insurance for their families would be able to get Affordable Care Act subsidies under a proposal by the Biden administration aimed at shoring up the Obama-era law.
The proposed change, expected to be announced today, would recalculate what is considered affordable for a family with employer-based health insurance. Currently, workers can’t get ACA subsidies to lower their premiums if they get affordable health-insurance coverage from an employer. But the definition of affordable is determined by the cost of the coverage for the employee and not for the employee’s spouse or children.
About five million people are affected by the so-called family glitch, and under the proposed change they will have more options for insurance coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Former President Barack Obama will be at the White House today to mark the 12th anniversary of the health law, and President Biden is expected to sign an executive order directing agencies to continue efforts to improve access to healthcare.
Inflation Impact on the Purchasing
American consumers are starting to cut costs on mainstays from toothpaste to baby formula as inflation hits a swath of the economy that had thus far proven resistant to substantial price increases.
Procter & Gamble Co., Clorox Co., Kraft Heinz Co. and other consumer-products giants have made a bet that consumers will pay up for household products even as inflation takes hold. Now consumers are buying staples in smaller quantities, switching to cheaper, store-name brands and more rigorously hunting for deals.
New Covid Package
Senators unveiled a $10 billion deal to further fund the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic with money repurposed from earlier aid rounds, well below what the White House originally requested for vaccines and therapeutics.
The package will allow the U.S. to purchase supplies, including more tests and vaccines, that the Biden administration said would be needed to continue to fight the virus. The $10 billion pulls from unused money in earlier bills passed by Congress, rather than representing new spending.
STATE OF ILLINOIS GRANT
- Connect Illinois Broadband Grant Program – A grant program for Businesses, nonprofits, cooperatives, school districts, and local governments. Proposals covering unserved and/or underserved areas are eligible for Connect Illinois grant funding. Deadline: Rolling through 2024 Get more information.
- USDA’S Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) – This grant assistance to create and augment high-wage jobs, accelerate the formation of new businesses, support industry clusters and maximize the use of local productive assets in eligible low-income rural areas. Deadline is April 19, 2022. Get more information
Building Blocks of Success: IDOT announces dates for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program workshops
The Illinois Department of Transportation is hosting free virtual workshops as part of its continuing Building Blocks of Success series for firms interested in participating in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, strengthening their skills and bidding on state construction projects.
The workshop dates and topics are:
April 12, 10 a.m. to noon: Scheduling Work
April 21, 10 a.m. to noon: Avoiding Pitfalls
May 4, 10 a.m. to noon: How to… IDOT Electrical Work
Workshop information is available through Eventbrite at bit.ly/DBEworkshops. Advance registration is required.
Questions can be directed to IDOT’s DBE Resource Center at (312) 939.1100.
As part of Gov. Pritzker’s historic and bipartisan Rebuild Illinois program, IDOT is helping to deliver the largest capital program in state history. IDOT strives to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the implementation of this program, including contracting and workforce participation.
Administered by IDOT, the DBE program provides minorities, women and other eligible small businesses opportunities to participate in highway, transit and airport contracts that are federally and state funded. For more information on becoming a certified DBE and learning more about IDOT resources that are available, visit www.idot.illinois.gov/dbe.
Finally, from State Senator Loughran Cappel: Have you requested a small business tour?
In an effort to promote resources available to small businesses and hear from small business owners and entrepreneurs, I am accepting applications to tour shops, restaurants and other establishments in the 49th Senate District. Learn more…
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry