Week in Review: COVID-19, CARES, Budget and more

Stay-at-home order. Executive Order 2020-10 requires Illinois residents to stay in their homes to avoid the risk of catching and transmitting the COVID-19 virus. Exceptions are carved out from this order for: (a) essential business, such as buying food and day-to-day necessities of life, and (b) the work and workplaces of “essential workers” which includes hospital workers, first responders, mail carriers, supermarket workers, and many other types of personnel.

The State of Illinois has posted a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the Stay-at-Home order. The FAQ includes a brief description of who is an “essential worker” under the Order.

Two new Executive Orders, promulgated this week, create legal standing for essential work during this period. Executive Order 2020-11 is aimed at maintaining a structure of day care services for the children of essential employees. It provides that individuals may leave their residence to work for or obtain any Human Services Operations, such as adoption agencies, long-term care facilities, residential settings for individuals with disabilities, and day care centers for children of essential employees. In addition, Illinois school districts do not need approval by the school board for an e-learning curriculum.

Executive Order 2020-12 is intended to increase the number of nurse assistants. It provides that individuals who are certified as a nurse assistant, but are currently inactive on the Health Care Worker Registry, may be hired under certain provisions, such as the inactive status being no more than five years and limiting conditional employment to three months pending the result of a more extensive background check.

Public Health Officials Announce 488 New Cases of Coronavirus Disease. On Friday, March 27, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 488 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including eight deaths. Approximately 86% of fatalities are among patients 60 years of age and older.

Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 3,026 cases, including 34 deaths, in 40 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to 99 years.

For more information, please visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or ilcovid19info.com.

Essential supplies. Many concerns have been raised about the availability of essential healthcare-related supplies for COVID-19 patient care and recovery. The federal government is working hard to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, masks, face shields, gowns, and many other essential items, from its emergency stockpile.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) is leading a task force to retool our State’s factories to create these essential supplies. The task force, which is working closely with Gov. Pritzker, will work to assemble essential protective gear and treatment devices and machines, such as hospital ventilators.

The maintenance of Illinois’ health care system will be aided by the Illinois National Guard, which has trained personnel available for health-related disaster relief efforts. The federal coronavirus relief bill is supporting the National Guard and emergency management authorities of the 50 states, including Illinois, to ensure that all available supplies are transported and distributed where they are most needed.

Illinoisans can help by giving blood. A serious nationwide blood shortage is one of the results of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blood drives all over the state are welcoming donors, and traveling to a donation center to give blood is “essential travel” within Illinois.

Economic relief package passes Congress. On Friday, March 27, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping, $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that will provide immediate assistance to many Americans, small businesses and major industries on the brink of economic collapse amid the ongoing pandemic. President Trump is expected to quickly sign the bill — the largest economic relief package in U.S. history.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Wednesday, March 25. The bill builds upon earlier versions of the CARES Act and is intended to be a third round of federal government support in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis and associated economic fallout, succeeding the $8.3 billion in public health support passed two weeks ago and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It is the product of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans for a bipartisan response to the crisis.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has put together a detailed summary of the package’s effect on states.

A few highlights of what is included in the CARES Act:
  • Creates a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for state, local and tribal governments. 
  • Provides $30 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts and institutions of higher education for costs related to the coronavirus. 
  • Provides $45 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal and territorial governments to protect citizens and help them respond and recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19.
  • Provides $1.4 billion for deployments of the National Guard. This level of funding will sustain up to 20,000 members of the National Guard, under the direction of the governors of each state, for the next six months in order to support state and local response efforts.
  • Provides an additional $4.3 billion, thorough the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to support federal, state and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.
  • Extends the Oct. 30, 2020, Real ID implementation deadline to Sept. 30, 2021.
  • Provides $25 billion for transit systems. These funds would be distributed through existing formulas including the Urbanized Area Formula Grants and Formula Grants for Rural Areas using fiscal year 2020 apportionment formulas.
  • Provides $400 million in election security grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus in the 2020 federal election cycle. States must provide an accounting to the Election Assistance Commission of how the funds were spent within 20 days of any 2020 election.
  • Expands unemployment insurance from three to four months, and provides temporary unemployment compensation of $600 per week, which is in addition to and the same time as regular state and federal UI benefits.
  • Establishes a $500 billion lending fund for businesses, cities and states.
  • Provides a $1,200 direct payment to many Americans and $500 for each dependent child.
Illinois’ share of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund is estimated to total $4.9 billion, with the State receiving $2.7 billion and local governments receiving $2.2 billion.

FY20, FY21 rewrites necessary. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, much less revenue is coming in from conventional sources, such as income taxes and sales taxes, than was projected for Fiscal Year 2020. People who have been laid off, or who are on hiatus from work, are not paying employment-related income taxes and are not making as many purchases as they normally would with many retail outlets closed. Additionally, casino and other gaming revenues, and hospitality-related general revenues such as sales taxes on restaurant meals, are affected by the shutdowns of these facilities. It is still unclear how long the current stay-at-home order will remain in place, and how it will affect FY21 revenues. However, current federal relief programs will provide significant non-conventional help to the budgets of states across the United States, including Illinois. It is too early to tell if federal stimulus to states and local governments will counter the loss of state and local revenues due to the virus.

The current crisis is placing a great deal of pressure upon health care providers at all levels, from hospitals to the community-care clinics that perform post-orthopedic work such as senior-citizen joint rehab. One of the federal COVID-19 bills has allocated increased federal health aid to the states that operate Medicaid programs. The federal share of the overall Medicaid health bill is going up by 6.2%.

Governor Pritzker has acknowledged that the budget priorities and promises he set forth in his FY21 budget proposal are expected to be set aside. In addition, potential budget changes will be needed to address additional spending pressures related to the outbreak in the current fiscal year. The prospective budget changes will likely come as a disappointment to many individuals and groups within Illinois who saw their priorities funded in the Governor’s FY21 spending proposal. It is likely that the rewrites will deeply affect many individuals and groups within Illinois. The Governor has indicated that he will need to work with the General Assembly to craft an entirely new budget proposal.

SBA Paycheck Protection Loans. The federal CARES Act provides $350 billion to create a new Paycheck Protection Loan program offered to small businesses with less than 500 employees at a maximum of $10 million/business.

Lenders will be given delegation authority meaning these can be in the hands of small businesses without time-consuming Small Business Administration (SBA) authorization. Amounts used to cover payroll costs, mortgage interest payments, rent, and utility bills over an 8-week period will be forgiven if the business retains employees (flexibility to allow businesses to rehire those already laid off). The program protects the franchise model by allowing this loan to be granted at the store/location level.

Individuals who have received an SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan are not eligible; however, refinancing options are being explored.

Emergency assistance programs available for Illinois small businesses. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has announced three new programs to help small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hospitality Emergency Grant Program
To help hospitality businesses make ends meet in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, DCEO is launching the Hospitality Emergency Grant Program with $14 million drawn from funds originally budgeted for job training, tourism promotion, and other purposes. Grant funds are available to support working capital like payroll and rent, as well as job training, retraining, and technology to support shifts in operations, like increased pick-up and delivery. Bars and restaurants that generated between $500K and $1M in revenue in 2019 are eligible for up to $25,000, and bars and restaurants that generated less than $500K in revenue in 2019 are eligible for up to $10,000. Hotels that generated less than $8M in revenue in 2019 are eligible for up to $50,000.

Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan Fund
DCEO and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) are establishing the Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan Fund to offer small businesses low interest loans of up to $50,000.

Businesses located outside of the City of Chicago with fewer than 50 workers and less than $3 million in revenue in 2019 will be eligible to apply. Successful applicants will owe nothing for six months and will then begin making fixed payments at a below market interest rate for the remainder of a five-year loan term.

Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program
To support small businesses in downstate and rural counties across Illinois, DCEO is repurposing $20 million in CDBG funds to stand up the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program. This Fund will offer small businesses of up to 50 employees the opportunity to partner with their local governments to obtain grants of up to $25,000 in working capital. These grants will be offered on a rolling basis.

More assistance for Illinois small businesses.

More to be done to help IDES meet needs of unemployed, provide certainty to business. As COVID-19 driven unemployment rates surge, the State of Illinois is falling behind in helping residents obtain much needed benefits and providing information to businesses about the repercussions on their unemployment insurance rates.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin sent a letter to the Governor this week urging him to supplement the efforts of the Illinois Department of Employment Security so that it can better meet the needs of Illinois’ growing unemployed.

He also requested the Governor provide certainty to businesses that closures and unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would not result in skyrocketing unemployment insurance rates.

IDES taking steps to address unprecedented volume of unemployment claims. On Thursday, March 26, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced they are taking additional steps to address the unprecedented volume of unemployment benefit claims the department has fielded as a result of COVID-19.

To date, the department has taken several steps to improve the unemployment benefit claims process via the online portal and the call center.
  • The website has been moved to new hardware infrastructure to handle the increased demand
  • Web, storage, and processing capacity has been increased to meet needs of increased traffic
  • Methods have been implemented to track COVID-19-related claims
  • Call center capacity has been increased
  • Daily call center hours have been extended to respond to those waiting in the queue after closure
  • Call center staff has been supplemented by 40% to cut down on wait times
  • Both the website and the call center will continue to be monitored for improvements in functions and abilities
In addition to these measures, IDES is now asking individuals to adhere to an alphabetized schedule when filing an unemployment benefit claim online and over the phone. This process mirrors other states, such as Colorado and New York, who are experiencing increased web traffic and high call volumes with their unemployment benefit systems.

Online Filing Schedule:
  • Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to file their claims on Sundays, Tuesdays, or Thursdays. 
  • Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to file their claims on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays.
  • Saturdays will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.
Call Center Filing Schedule:
  • Those with last names beginning with letters A-M will be asked to call on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 7:30am - 6pm. 
  • Those with last names beginning with letters N-Z will be asked to call on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:30am - 6pm.
  • Fridays (7:30am - 6pm) will be available for anyone to accommodate those who could not file during their allotted window.
The day or time of day in which a claim is filed will not impact whether you receive benefits or your benefit amount. Additionally, claims will be back-dated to reflect the date in which a claimant was laid-off or let go from their job due to COVID-19.

IDES is currently working through an unparalleled number of unemployment benefit claims and questions, both online and through the call center. Over the first three weeks of March, IDES has received over 130,000 unemployment benefit claims, an increase of close to 400% compared to the corresponding weeks the prior year. The department received close to 115,000 claims for the week of March 21 alone, an increase of nearly 1,400% compared to the corresponding week the prior year. Additionally, the call center continues to field hundreds of calls per minute, per day.

Those with questions or in need of assistance with unemployment benefit at this time are encouraged to visit IDES.Illinois.gov.

Concerns about unemployment insurance and job re-creation. The unemployment insurance system is self-funded: by law, it cannot be a burden upon the general funds of Illinois. Employers and employees pay contributions into the system in amounts high enough to balance the books. The contribution rates, determined by IDES with the advice of business and labor, are based upon employment patterns in each industry. For industries with cyclical business patterns and frequent layoffs, the UI contribution rates will be higher than for firms in stable industries that rarely lay off their employees. The contribution rates are determined by an algorithm that includes several variables, and a firm’s layoff record, its “experience factor,” is one of the variables.

Today in Illinois many firms, economic sectors, and whole industries that rarely lay employees off have been forced to do so. They have, under current law, increased their experience factors and made themselves liable to a higher contribution rate. Affordable contribution rates are essential elements of these industries’ ability to pay a living wage and be profitable. Many representatives of business and labor are deeply concerned about automatic changes to contribution rates that IDES will have to impose upon their workers and their firms under the operation of current law. In his letter to Gov. Pritzker on Thursday, March 26, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called for Illinois employment law to offer experience-factor relief to hard-hit Illinois employers and employees.

Illinois Income Tax Filing Deadline Extended. The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is following the federal government in providing special tax filing and payment relief to individuals and businesses in response to the COVID-19 Outbreak. The filing deadline for Illinois income tax returns has been extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

These moves do not affect taxpayers who have already filed for tax year 2019. Early filers will be first in line for any tax refunds for which they are eligible. In addition, these moves do not affect that subset of individual income taxpayers who are required to make quarterly estimated payments. These estimated payments will continue to be due on April 15, 2020, and June 30, 2020.

Federal government extends REAL ID deadline for a year. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced Thursday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has extended the federal REAL ID deadline an additional year to Oct. 1, 2021. DHS cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact the virus is having on the general public and driver’s license and ID card-issuing agencies nationwide. Earlier this month, White, along with other state and business leaders from around the country, called on DHS to extend the REAL ID deadline.

Current Illinois driver’s licenses or ID cards will continue to be accepted at airports, military bases and secure federal facilities until Oct. 1, 2021. Once Driver Services facilities reopen, White is suggesting that people who want a REAL ID wait until their current driver’s license or ID card is about to expire before visiting a facility to apply for a REAL ID. For those whose driver’s license or ID card expires after Oct. 1, 2021, and want a REAL ID, they can use their valid U.S. passport or other TSA-acceptable documents to fly domestically until they must renew their current card.

“The decision to extend the REAL ID deadline to Oct. 1, 2021 – a year past the old deadline – is the proper and necessary action during this time of uncertainty and crisis,” said White. “I urge Illinoisans with valid driver’s licenses and ID cards not to rush to our facilities to obtain a REAL ID once they reopen.”

As a reminder, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, White closed all offices, including Driver Services facilities statewide to the public, through April 7, due to the health and safety recommendations by experts endorsing social distancing efforts to minimize transmission of the virus. Many other states have followed with similar actions.

White is reminding residents that many transactions with the Secretary of State’s office may be conducted online at https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/.

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