Week in Review: COVID-19, FOID, Jobs & more

“Stay at Home” continues. Governor Pritzker renewed his call this week for Illinoisans to continue and intensify “social distancing” from each other, including avoiding all public gatherings and keeping even essential activities, such as shopping, to a minimum. The public appeal, made on Tuesday, April 7, came as both the number and the rate of COVID-19-related cases and deaths continued to increase throughout Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area. The Governor’s Stay at Home Order remains in effect through April 30.

Illinois has nearly 18,000 cases of coronavirus disease. On Friday, April 10, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced 1,465 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Illinois, including 68 additional deaths.

Currently, IDPH is reporting a total of 17,887 cases, including 596 deaths, in 83 counties in Illinois. The age of cases ranges from younger than one to older than 100 years.

For all personal protective equipment (PPE) donations, email PPE.donations@illinois.gov. For health questions about COVID-19, call the hotline at 1-800-889-3931 or email dph.sick@illinois.gov.

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

Civil immunity for healthcare workers. The rare move grants broad immunity from civil lawsuits to Illinois healthcare professionals who are “rendering assistance” as disaster responders to patients during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Civil immunity was granted by executive order promulgated by Gov. Pritzker.

The civil immunity has some similarities to, but is different from, the “Good Samaritan” limitations of liability that are granted to individual healthcare workers who are caught in unpredictable emergency situations where immediate assistance is required. The biggest difference is that, as a result of this grant, sectors of Illinois health care are granted temporary immunity from damages. Many case laws preserve a structure of civil liability even when civil immunities are granted. It cannot be assumed that a health care provider will be completely exempt from liability if some sort of reckless conduct can be shown and presented to a court of law.

This being said, the Illinois courts of law are likely to grant broad discretion to Illinois health care providers as to the pressures and necessities of the current situation. The Governor’s healthcare-worker-immunity Executive Order is EO 2020-19, filed on April 1.

Illinois credit rating hit by COVID-19 pandemic events. The debt markets have responded negatively to the soaring budgetary costs and collapsing tax revenues generated by the current health crisis. This negative response has bid down Illinois faith-and-credit debt in relation to the debts of other borrowers, such as the U.S. federal government. Bloomberg News reports that the State of Illinois’ 10-year notes have been knocked down to the point where they yield interest that is 340 basis points higher than the (currently minimal) interest rates enjoyed by AAA-rated debt.

State of Illinois full faith-and-credit debt is current rated at the lowest credit rating above “junk bond” level. The appearance of a 340-basis-point spread is not only a signal of substantial belief in the Wall Street debt market that Illinois debt will soon be marked down to junk; it is also a sign that when Illinois goes to the debt market to borrow emergency funds to meet the demands of the current health crisis, the State and its taxpayers will have to pay a substantial debt premium to borrow these funds.

Essential workers and child care. One of the many dilemmas facing Illinois residents during the current crisis is that of child care. As with many other businesses, most Illinois child care centers have been shut down by government order. At the same time, so-called “essential workers” have been told to continue to work. Many of these essential workers are also essential providers of child care.

A stopgap set of emergency child care centers has been set up. Priority for spaces in these child care centers is being reserved for the children of essential workers in health care, grocery store workers, food producers, and people in other essential businesses such as gas stations. The emergency child care center hotline phone number is 888-228-1146. Interested persons, looking for a slot in one of the centers, can conduct a search at https://emergencycare.inccrra.org/. The centers are differentiating between children age under 3 (toddlers), children age 3-5, and school-age children.

Illinois State Police extends FOID and CCL renewals. The Illinois State Police filed emergency rules this week to address renewals of Firearm Owner Identification and Concealed Carry Licenses during the COVID-19 epidemic.

These rules are designed to provide FOID card holders and CCL relief from the renewal requirements during the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. These new rules are effective immediately.

These rule changes are as follows:
  • FOID card holders, who submit their renewal application, will remain valid during the duration of the state’s disaster proclamation and for a period of 12 months following the termination of the disaster, even if their renewal application is/was not submitted prior to expiration.
  • CCL licensees, who submit their renewal application, will remain valid during the duration of the state’s disaster proclamation and for a period of 12 months following its termination, even if their CCL renewal application was not submitted prior to expiration. 
  • CCL licensees will not be required to immediately submit proof of three-hour training with their CCL renewal application.
  • CCL licensees will need to submit proof of their three-hour renewal training within 12 months following the termination of the state’s disaster proclamation in order to maintain the validity of their CCL license.
ISP will continue to enforce both FOID and CCL prohibitors. FOID card holders who receive revocation notices shall return their FOID and Firearm Disposition Record form to the Illinois State Police. CCL holders who receive revocation notices shall return their CCL license to the Illinois State Police.

Unemployment insurance system breaks down. Under federal law, each state controls its own unemployment insurance (UI) system, which is supposed to respond when an insurance-eligible worker is laid off. In the most-recently reported week of U.S. unemployment totals, 6.6 million additional Americans had been laid off and took steps to file for unemployment benefits. These numbers were reported on Thursday, April 9.

More than 200,000 of these new filers are residents of Illinois. Under current conditions, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) and its UI system are being asked to help hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans who have been laid off, or who are facing imminent layoff. In addition, UI systems are being asked to administer at least two key elements of federal aid for hard-hit people under the CARES Act. These elements include: (a) supplemental payments for many laid-off employees, and (b) supplemental payments for many persons who are workers in non-employer/employee relationships. These include so-called “gig workers,’ such as drivers of motor vehicles that are hailed by phone app through Uber and similar services.

These benefits are being administered through the choke points of state unemployment insurance systems, because these are the systems that individuals are supposed to use to demonstrate and prove the fact that they have actually lost their jobs. Unfortunately, under the accumulated weight of these responsibilities, as of early April 2020, the IDES UI system has partially collapsed. Throughout Illinois, people who need help from IDES are facing jammed computers and busy phone lines. In addition to the 200,940 Illinois UI claims that were successfully filed in the week ending April 4, tens of thousands of additional people are being stymied in their attempts to prove their unemployment status and file for benefits.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is demanding action be taken by IDES to help unemployed Illinoisans. Saying, “We are failing our residents,” Durkin criticized the Department for its lack of preparation, and called on them to hire competent outside help and develop public-private partnerships. The goal of all is the development of a functional, usable UI benefit claims system.

Tax filing deadline extended. In separate actions, the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have both extended the April 15 annual tax-filing deadline until July 15 of the calendar year. Both agencies strongly urge filing by April 15, however. Filing by April 15 will put a taxpayer first in line for his or her tax refund.

In addition, relief has been granted from the penalties usually imposed upon the late payments of certain sales taxes. This is especially important for small businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, including retailers, restaurants, and taverns. All taxpayers, particularly employers and small businesses, should be in continuous contact with their tax advisors on this developing situation.

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