Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
The information does not slow down this week at all as a number of items have hit the radar including the need to extend telehealth services in HSA plans, the growth of the economy and the ranking of the economy as a priority to voters. There are also some opportunities and reminders on Secure Choice, Wage & Hour rules, DCEO funding, and Electric Vehicle rebates. We continue to monitor the situation regarding employee classification as well.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
The need to extend the telehealth provision that allows employers to offer telehealth services pre-deductible
The expanded flexibilities for Health Savings Account-eligible plans with passage of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and subsequent extension to the end of 2022, has helped more Americans access the care they need.
Regrettably, this popular provision expires at the end of this year. Without Congressional action, employers will be required to charge employees more to access telehealth services, creating a barrier to care, including mental health treatment. Unfortunately, more Americans need access to affordable mental and behavioral health services, not less.
Congress must extend this provision. There is bipartisan, bicameral support in Congress
to provide flexibility for plans and employers to offer telehealth pre-deductible in Health Savings Account-eligible plans (H.R. 5981/S. 1704).
Telehealth Helps Employers Focus on Addressing Mental Health Needs
During the COVID-19 pandemic, about four in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019. (1) In the face of this challenge, employers pivoted to provide new and expanded mental and behavioral health resources for their employees. Due to this effort, in 2022 75% of large employers are offering access to lower- or no-cost mental health support through their telemental health provider and 33% are offering lower cost counseling services at the worksite – bringing services directly to employees wherever they are.(2) Without an extension of current flexibility, employers would be required to charge employees more to access this care, creating another barrier to treatment.
Already an area of acute focus, employers doubled down on mental health and emotional well-being to meet employee needs. In an informal survey of large employers, 85% said supporting and/or expanding access to mental health care for employees was a top priority for their organization.(3) In another survey conducted a year into the pandemic, 50% of employers reported that employees were taking greater advantage of company mental health resources.(4) This includes expanded access to virtual care and on-demand telemental health; enriched Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits to help employees manage their wellness; newly eliminated copayments for mental health encounters; and added voluntary and supplemental benefits aimed at addressing overall wellbeing (e.g. financial wellness, caregiving supports, enhanced leave, sleep management, and more).
According to the Business Group on Health’s (BGH) 2022 “Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey,” a true silver lining of the pandemic has been the significant investments made in virtual and mental health offerings, many of which will become permanent. These include expanded telehealth or virtual health offerings (76%), better access to virtual health (68%) and new mental health benefits (62%). The need for mental health services extends beyond the pandemic.
Telehealth is also improving access to mental health care and substance use disorder treatment from a health equity perspective as noted in a recent study published in Health Affairs (May 2022). This provides evidence that Medicare’s COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities improved telehealth access for minority populations.
In a 2021 Morning Consult National Tracking Poll sponsored by the Alliance to Fight for Health Care, seven in ten insured adults (71%) felt it is important that they are able to access telehealth services under their current health care plan and 89% rated their or their family member’s previous telehealth visit(s) as good or excellent. One-fifth of insured American adults have personally had a telehealth appointment for their mental health care and nearly two-thirds are willing to receive mental health care virtually through a telehealth system. (5)
The support for affordable telehealth and telemental health is strong. Allowing employers and health plans to continue offering these important services pre-deductible improves affordability and expands access. The chamber has signed on to a letter with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in support of this provision.
US growth rebounds in third quarter
U.S. economic growth rebounded during the third quarter after six months of steady declines, according to data released Thursday by the Commerce Department.
U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annualized rate of 2.6 percent between July and September, up from declines of 1.6 percent in the second quarter and 0.6 percent in the third quarter of 2022, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday. That means that if the third quarter’s pace of growth lasted 12 months, the U.S. economy would have grown 2.6 percent by the end of that time.
Economists expected U.S. GDP to rise at an annualized rate of 2.3 percent in the third quarter, according to consensus estimates. Yet even though the growth numbers suggest an economy growing relatively strong, there were warnings signs within the report about a slowdown.
“Real GDP increased in the third quarter, but I don’t expect this growth to continue later this year or early next,” wrote John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult, in a Thursday analysis.
“Much of the growth in Q3 GDP was driven by an increase in exports, reflecting the global reopening that occurred this past summer, but weak global demand combined with a relatively strong U.S. dollar are likely to significantly limit export growth.”
The third-quarter GDP increase was driven almost entirely by a surge in exports, which add to GDP calculations, and a steep decline in imports, which detract from GDP. The trade dynamic shifted rapidly from the first and second quarters, when surging imports and declining exports turned GDP growth negative despite strong activity elsewhere in the economy.
Consumer spending also held firm during the third quarter, rising 1.4 percent after an increase of 2 percent during the second quarter.
The stronger-than-expected GDP report comes amid increasing concerns about whether the U.S. will slip into a recession next year amid high inflation, a slowdown in Europe and rising Federal Reserve interest rates. While economists still fear the U.S. could hit a recession next year, the GDP rebound is further proof that the American economy had avoided one so far.
Economic issues are voters’ top priority, polling finds
Newly released polling shows that with a little more than one week until election day, voters are most concerned about the economy.
Gallup released the survey data, which showed that 49% of U.S. voters say the economy is “extremely important” to their vote. Abortion and crime come next, with 42% and 40% of voters saying the same about those issues, respectively.
“Gun policy and immigration constitute third-tier election issues, rated extremely important by 38% and 37% of voters, respectively,” the group said. “Fewer, 31%, say relations with Russia is extremely important to their vote, while the 26% focused on climate change makes it the least influential issue tested in the Oct. 3-20 Gallup poll.”
“At 49%, the percentage of Americans now rating the economy as extremely important to their vote is still higher than Gallup has found in its final pre-election surveys in almost all prior midterm election years since 2002,” the group said. “The exception was in 2010, a time of high unemployment following the 2007-2009 recession, when 63% rated the economy an extremely important issue.”
The recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade as well as gun violence has helped propel those issues in voters’ minds, though they still lag behind economic concerns. “Abortion is also taking on heightened significance to voters this year, with 42% rating it extremely important, far above the 27% and 17% who did so in 2006 and 2002, respectively,” Gallup said. “The latest importance ratings for immigration and climate change are about average for these issues compared with prior years’ midterm ratings. Meanwhile, gun policy has been much more important in the past two midterm elections than in 2002 (which was the only other midterm year Gallup measured it).”
Other polling from Gallup, though, has shown that when voters are forced to choose between the economy and other issues like crime or abortion, they overwhelmingly pick the economy. A Gallup survey from September showed 38% of Americans cited an economic issue as the “most important problem” facing the nation with 17% naming inflation and 12% noting the economy overall. For comparison, only 4% of Americans chose abortion and another 4% chose crime.
Wage & Hour Guide for Small Businesses
As small business owners, every day you likely encounter the unexpected especially when it comes to employees. And no area of employment law is trickier than wage and hour rules. Join this webinar with NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center to deepen your understanding of key wage and hour laws and how to stay in compliance with them.
Topics will include:
- Overtime requirements, as well as other common wage and hour issues, for non-exempt (hourly) employees.
- How to calculate travel pay.
- Time off from work to vote rules.
- Deductions from wages for employee uniforms and other expenses.
- Wage and hour mandatory recordkeeping.
*They will also discuss the U.S. Department of Labor’s recently announced proposal to change independent contractor rules.
Click here to register through the NFIB: https://pages.nfib.com/WBN-2022-11-NAT-Wage-Hour-Guide_LP-Register.html?utm_source=Webinars&utm_campaign=WBN-2022-11-NAT-Wage-Hour-Guide&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=Invite01
Reminder: Illinois Secure Choice: Expanding Retirement Savings Access for Illinois Workers
Per State law, employers with 5 or more Illinois employees that have been in business for at least 2 years and that don’t offer a tax-qualified retirement plan are required to register for and facilitate Illinois Secure Choice.
Through Illinois Secure Choice, Illinois workers can save for retirement through Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) funded by payroll deductions. The program is facilitated by the State of Illinois and administered by a professional financial services firm. Employers do not pay any fees, make contributions, or have any fiduciary liability – they simply facilitate employee payroll deductions and keep their employee rosters current.
Businesses with 16 or more Illinois employees must register for or report an exemption from the
program by November 1, 2022. The registration/exemption deadline for businesses with 5-15
employees is November 1, 2023, though employers are welcome to join ahead of their applicable
Businesses with an upcoming registration deadline will receive correspondence directly from Secure Choice. Business owners can also access information and resources by:
• Visiting the program website – www.ilsecurechoice.com
• Attending a webinar (employer overview webinars are held each week)
• Scheduling time with Jaimee Niles, the Illinois relationship manager for the program who can
provide hands-on assistance – https://calendly.com/jaimee-niles
DCEO Announces $3 Million in Funding to Support Local Tourism
Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced nearly $3 million in funding to support local tourism promotional efforts across the state through the Illinois Travel and Tourism Grant Program.
DCEO has prioritized local tourism recovery through multiple grant funding efforts and opportunities, including $25 million for two rounds of the Tourism Attraction and Festivals Grant Program, $4 million for Route 66 tourism funding, and more than $285 million for restaurants, hotels, and small businesses in the tourism/travel industry through the Back to Business (B2B), Business Interruption Grant (BIG) and Emergency Hospitality grant programs.
Through a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) entities can apply for grants of up to $100,000 for promotional funds. Applications will be accepted until December 12, 2022. To view the NOFO and apply for the grant, please visit this page.
Read the full press release for additional information.
Pritzker Administration Opens Second Round of Electric Vehicle Rebate Program for Illinois Residents
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) Director John J. Kim announced the opening of the second round of funding through the Illinois Electric Vehicle (EV) Rebate Program. The program was created under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pritzker in the fall of 2021. Individuals can access and complete an application for a second-round rebate under Illinois’ EV Rebate Program at: https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/ceja/Pages/Electric-Vehicle-Rebates.aspx. Applications for the second funding round are being accepted starting November 1 and must be postmarked on or before January 31, 2023.
“Because of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act’s innovative rebate program, ownership of an electric vehicle has never been more attainable in Illinois,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The livelihood of our neighbors depends on access to affordable, clean energy technology, and now Illinoisans have the chance to play a crucial role in the fight against climate change by purchasing an electric vehicle.”
“The Illinois EPA saw a great deal of interest in electric vehicle rebates in the first round, with more than 2,000 applications received and over $8.7 million issued in rebates,” said Director Kim. “Electric vehicles represent the cleanest form of transportation available today, reducing volatile organic compounds and other greenhouse gases. We continue to encourage residents to take advantage of this rebate program, which also provides an environmental benefit for our state.”
Eligibility requirements for an EV rebate in Illinois include, but are not limited to:
- The rebate application must be postmarked within 90 days of the vehicle purchase date AND the rebate application must be postmarked on or before the end of the rebate cycle, January 31, 2023.
- The purchaser must reside in Illinois at time of vehicle purchase and at the time the rebate is issued.
- The vehicle must be purchased from a dealer licensed by the Illinois Secretary of State.
- Rented or leased vehicles do not qualify for the rebate.
- The vehicle cannot have been the subject of a previous EV rebate under this new program in Illinois.
- Individuals cannot have been the recipient of a previous EV rebate under this new program in Illinois.
- The rebate amount cannot exceed the purchase price of the vehicle.
- The purchaser must retain ownership of the vehicle for a minimum of 12 consecutive months immediately after the vehicle purchase date.
- Documentation requirements include a copy of purchase invoice, proof of purchase, vehicle registration, and IRS W-9 or W-8 forms.
As with the first round of funding and as required under CEJA, Illinois EPA will prioritize the review of applications from low-income purchasers and award rebates to purchasers accordingly. Low income is defined as persons and families whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the State median income, as established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Illinois EPA’s EV Rebate website includes a Frequently Asked Questions (en Español) document to answer questions about the program. Applicants are encouraged to thoroughly review the Application, Instructions, and Frequently Asked Questions document prior to submitting their application to avoid delays in processing. Individuals seeking receipt confirmation should send their application and support document via certified mail.
As previously announced, rebate application cycles will be opened and rebates will be issued to eligible applicants subject to availability of funds. Illinois residents that purchase an all-electric passenger vehicle within 90-days of a funding round are eligible to apply for a rebate under Illinois’ EV Rebate Program. The following rebate amounts have been set forth in statute:
- A $4,000 rebate for an all-electric vehicle. Note: The vehicle must be exclusively powered and refueled by electricity, plugged in to charge, and licensed to drive on public roadways. Electric mopeds, electric off-highway vehicles, hybrid electric or extended range electric vehicles that are also equipped with conventional fueled propulsion or auxiliary engines are not eligible under the program.
- A $1,500 rebate is available for the purchase of an all-electric motorcycle.
After the application period closes, rebates will be issued to eligible applicants based on funding availability.
Individuals interested in receiving updates on Illinois EPA’s EV programs may register for the EV Listserv at: https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/ceja/Pages/default.aspx.
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry