Week in Review: Remote learning continues, unemployment, National Guard & more

Illinois schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Governor JB Pritzker announced Friday that in-person learning in schools will not resume during the 2019-2020 school year, with remote learning days to continue for all pre-k through 12th grade students.

"I've said time and time again, our decisions must follow the science and the science says our students can't go back to their normal routine this school year," said Governor Pritzker. "Over the last month, Illinois' schools have stepped up and faced the many challenges of COVID-19 with generosity, creativity, and a resolute focus on caring for students, parents and communities. I am confident that our schools will manage and expand the learning opportunities for all our children who will be working from home over the coming weeks."

Governor Pritzker has continued to work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to identify and provide the flexibility that school districts need to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois will receive approximately $569 million in federal funding for prek-12 schools, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funding can help equip students with technology and internet access to enhance remote learning, support teachers in developing their remote instruction skills, and assist schools in continuing to provide meals to children and communities.

Each public school district will receive CARES Act funding proportional to the number of low-income students they serve. ISBE also will receive CARES Act dollars as the state education agency.

Illinois has taken advantage of other federal waivers and opportunities to help schools meet the need of Illinois' families. ISBE secured the waiver early on to allow schools to serve meals in creative ways outside of school. ISBE has worked with the Illinois Department of Human Services to prepare for the implementation of the Pandemic-EBT, which will supply families with additional funds for purchasing food during the crisis. ISBE also secured waivers to allow schools to carryover federal funds for low-income students to support their transition back to classroom this fall.

Each public school district in Illinois has developed and implemented a plan to ensure all students have access to instruction and to their teachers during Remote Learning Days. ISBE convened an advisory group of teachers, superintendents, and students to develop comprehensive Remote Learning Recommendations for all grade levels, including suggestions on grading, content selection and delivery, social-emotional development, and communication with families. The recommendations are available at www.isbe.net/covid19.

ISBE has encouraged each school to determine a local method of taking attendance or checking student engagement. Daily virtual contact with students helps teachers understand when students may need additional support with assignments, meals, mental health, or other needs. ISBE also will release recommendations to schools to address learning loss and students' social-emotional needs when students transition back to in-person instruction.

The governor also waived the edTPA and student teaching requirement for educator candidates who have completed all other requirements for licensure. These and other emergency changes to educator licensure will ensure that the COVID-19 does not impact local school district's ability to hire qualified educators they need to support students.

Lastly, the governor and his administration amended graduation requirements for high school seniors, in recognition of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their final semester. For example, current high school seniors may graduate without the normally required participation in consumer education and physical fitness assessment.

More than 27,500 coronavirus cases in Illinois. On Friday, April 17, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 1,842 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 62 additional deaths.

Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 27,575 cases, including 1,134 deaths, in 92 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to older than 100 years.

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

Help for those facing economic hardship. COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has caused economic hardship for many Illinoisans. If you are facing tough economic times please know you are not alone and there are programs out there to help. Please visit The Caucus Blog for a list of some of the programs available to help with utilities, mortgages and student loans.

Illinois Unemployment Rate Up, Payroll Jobs Down in March at Start of COVID-19 Outbreak. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced Thursday that the unemployment rate rose +1.2 percentage points to 4.6 percent, while nonfarm payrolls lost -34,100 jobs in March. This reflects the initial impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on Illinois businesses and households, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The February monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report from -200 to -11,400 jobs.

The state’s unemployment rate was +0.2 percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate reported for March, which was 4.4 percent, up +0.9 percentage point from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was up +0.3 percentage point from a year ago when it was 4.3 percent.

The number of unemployed workers increased sharply from the prior month, +33.6 percent to 292,300 and was up +5.6 percent over the same month for the prior year. The labor force was down -1.1 percent over-the-month and -2.0 percent over-the-year. The unemployment rate identifies those individuals who are out of work and seeking employment.

House Republicans Call For Immediate Remedies to Unemployment Failures at the Department of Employment Security. Legislators have been fielding hundreds of calls and emails from desperate and distraught Illinoisans who are frustrated with the inability to connect with the Department of Employment Security (IDES). Finding themselves unemployed overnight because of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Illinois residents thought they would be able to attain unemployment benefits but found IDES phone lines busy and a website that can't handle the traffic. There was no way to communicate with IDES so they turned to their lawmakers in an attempt to find someone to help as they struggle to pay for food, housing and medicine.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and House Republican caucus members are calling upon on Governor JB Pritzker and state officials to rectify the failed unemployment system in Illinois and provide immediate assistance and relief to families across the state.

“At a time when Illinoisans in distress need state government the most, we have simply failed,” Durkin said. “These are families who were living paycheck to paycheck and now have no way to put food on the table for the children. We must do better by fixing this issue immediately.”

In March, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued two executive orders that 1) restricted dine-in service at restaurants, bars and food establishments, and 2) closed non-essential businesses across the state until April 30, 2020 (tentatively). These pre-determined actions resulted in mass layoffs and furloughs in every part of the state, with nearly 500,000 residents filing for unemployment and countless others who cannot get through to IDES and are not receiving deserving benefits.

“The current situation at IDES is simply unacceptable and the Governor’s response has been inadequate,” Rep. Wehrli said. “While we all understand we are facing a health emergency, we are also in an economic emergency that is being worsened by the state’s lack of action.”

The federal government’s CARES Act allows for any self-employed workers, gig workers and independent contractors to apply for unemployment insurance for the first time. While states across the country have started rolling out this new plan, Illinois still has no date available when workers can file applications.

“The federal government has stepped up to help those who have been cut off from vital paychecks after losing their jobs,” Rep. Marron said. “The failure of IDES means residents who can’t apply are not able to receive state OR federal benefits. The Governor needs to get IDES working efficiently, especially for our self-employed workers who have no idea when they will be able to apply for benefits.”

Illinois revenues will be hit hard by coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the U.S. economy, leading to an unexpected loss of revenues across all 50 states, with early projections showing combined state budget deficits of $500 billion over the next two years.

In Illinois, general revenue funds are being revised down $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $4.6 billion in fiscal year 2021. With short-term borrowing to bridge through this crisis, the total shortfall for fiscal year 2021 is $6.2 billion when compared to the spending plan put forth by the Governor in February. While states are slated to receive federal funding to address costs associated with the pandemic, this funding cannot be used for the broader impact on COVID-19 on state revenue.

While the length and potential impact of the unprecedented emergency response remains unclear, economists have begun to project the likely impact on the economy, and in turn, the revenue collections that support the operations of state governments. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) and the Department of Revenuecurrently estimate that fiscal year 2020 general funds state source base revenues will be approximately $2.7 billion below the February estimate of $36.9 billion, partially offset by expected additional federal revenues and additional interfund borrowing processed by the Office of the Comptroller. Fiscal year 2021 general funds state source revenue estimates are being revised $4.6 billion down from an estimated state source base revenue estimate of $38.5 billion. This revenue shortfall, combined with additional fiscal year 2020 borrowing, has created a budgetary gap when compared to the fiscal year 2021 spending plan outlined by the Governor in February. Because the budget for fiscal year 2021 will be impacted by whether the graduated income tax structure in PA 101-0008 takes effect, there are two scenarios for the budget gap in fiscal year 2021. If PA 101-0008 takes effect, the budget gap is approximately $6.2 billion. If the graduated income tax structure in PA 101-0008 does not go into effect, the estimated budget gap is approximately $7.4 billion.

Report from Comptroller Mendoza begins to reveal the extent of the COVID-19 budget crisis. As of Monday, April 13, Illinois taxpayers have spent more than $168.2 million in unexpected, unappropriated State funds for tangible goods relating to the health care disaster. Enumerated expenditures include the purchase of emergency respirators, ventilators, face masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies for first responders throughout Illinois, as well as for State buildings and facilities. Many State facilities, such as prisons, mental health centers, and veterans’ homes, are places where residents are expected to live in close proximity to each other. Even extraordinary efforts to keep these facilities clean and sanitary are running into challenges.

Large areas of State spending may not be fully covered by the Comptroller’s report. Expenses for intangible goods and services, such as advice from emergency consultants, must be added to the total spending. In addition, the indirect effect of lost State tax revenues, and the interest and late-payments charges that will be added for money the State is borrowing and spending must be accounted for.

Illinois National Guard deployed to essential duties. Units of the Illinois National Guard have been assigned to a variety of duties related to disaster response, including the refitting of field hospitals and the transport and guarding of critical medical supplies. These duties draw upon the Guard’s skill sets in disaster response and the rapid deployment of health care in nonstandard settings.

As of mid-April, the Illinois National Guard was fulfilling, or had fulfilled, 13 separate missions that included the critical role of establishing medical facilities at McCormick Place. The Chicago convention center will be able to help “flatten the curve” by offering bed space to relieve potential flash points with excess patients. At the State Emergency Operations Center, National Guard logisticians are helping supervise transport of protective gear and medical equipment. Other National Guard personnel are working at the Stateville Correctional Center.

House working groups begin to meet. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home order, the Illinois General Assembly has cancelled scheduled session weeks in Springfield. Despite not being physically present at the State Capitol, actions are being taken by lawmakers to plan a path forward.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has worked in a bipartisan manner to help set up a series of legislative working groups to hold online meetings on the urgent issues facing the State. These working groups have begun to meet by video and conference call. They are enabling members of the House to represent their constituents, share the concerns popping up in their local districts, and prepare a truncated House agenda for when session can resume.

CARES Act stimulus payments do not count as income for State income tax purposes. Most money that Illinois individuals take in is income; it must be declared on their federal and state income tax returns, and taxes must be paid. The federal CARES Act contains provisions to help maintain cash flows for Americans who face bills, loan payments, and other essential expenses during the current health care situation. Under this new federal law, up to $1,200 is being paid to individuals with past-year incomes below $99,000, with up to $2,400 paid to taxpayers filing jointly and an additional $500 for each dependent. House Revenue Committee Republican Spokesperson Joe Sosnowski explains what the CARES Act means to Illinoisans.

Now that checks are being deposited into the accounts of many taxpayers who file electronic returns, with some additional moneys scheduled to be paid out to other taxpayers by paper check, many Illinois residents are asking whether the money is income that will itself be taxable. The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) states, in response, that CARES Act payments are not income for State individual income tax purposes. The money is defined as a prepaid refundable federal income tax credit. This is a category of money that does not count as income under State or federal income tax law.

Driver’s License renewals extended 90 days after SOS offices reopen. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office has filed emergency rules extending expiration dates for driver’s licenses, identification (ID) cards, vehicle registrations and other transactions and document filings for at least 90 days after Driver Services facilities reopen. The previous extension was for 30 days. This move will ensure driver’s licenses, ID cards and vehicle registrations remain valid during the COVID-19 pandemic and will help alleviate the rush of customers visiting Driver Services facilities once they reopen.

While Driver Services facilities are closed to the public through April 30, many transactions with the Secretary of State’s office may still be conducted online at www.cyberdriveillinois.com. People who conduct online transactions will further help to alleviate the rush of face-to-face transactions that will occur at facilities once they reopen.

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