Week in Review: Identity fraud, Madigan, veterans & more


Leader Durkin calls for Speaker Madigan’s resignation from the House. On Tuesday, the same day that Madigan insider Mike McClain was arraigned in federal court on charges related to Commonwealth Edison’s admitted bribery and influence peddling scheme, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called for Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s resignation from the Illinois House of Representatives.
Speaker Madigan has been identified as “Public Official A” in ComEd’s Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the federal government, in which ComEd admitted to a bribery and influence-peddling scheme with the Speaker in exchange for favorable legislative action on behalf of the utility giant. ComEd has already agreed to pay $200 million as part of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement resulting from the scandal. Several of the perpetrators have already pleaded guilty, and at least one is described as cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Leader Durkin also demanded that the Special Investigating Committee set an immediate meeting date to examine the new evidence presented to it, and to discuss urgent action to be taken in response. Despite the serious nature of the ComEd admissions and guilty pleas, and the presentation of hundreds of pages of ComEd evidence to the Committee, the Investigating Committee has met just twice. Chairperson Welch has finally scheduled a meeting of the Committee in Springfield on Monday, December 14, but it is not yet clear what the Committee will say or do in response to the evidence presented to it thus far. Meanwhile, key figures in the growing scandal continued to face legal proceedings this week.

Longtime Madigan insider McClain pleads not guilty in federal court arraignment. The plea was offered by Mike McClain, a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives. After leaving the legislature, McClain worked for decades as a registered lobbyist, confidant of Speaker Madigan, and Springfield’s go-to “fixer.” In company with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore and two other major figures in the growing scandal, McClain entered a “not guilty” plea in Chicago-based U.S. District Court. The defendants entered their pleas with the Court on Wednesday, December 2.

Illinois House Republicans Demand House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hold Hearings on LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 Outbreak. Illinois House Republican members Randy Frese, David Welter and Dan Swanson hosted a Zoom press conference on Monday to address the COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. The Republican State Reps. are demanding hearings of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee commence immediately.

State Representative Randy Frese is the House Republican Spokesperson and ranking member on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Frese and his fellow Republican House Veterans’ Affairs committee members sent a letter requesting hearings into the LaSalle outbreak more than three weeks ago.

“What has happened at the LaSalle Veterans Home has left me heartbroken, and angry,” said Rep. Frese. “Weeks ago, I and other Republican members of the Committee formally asked the Democrat Chairman to convene an immediate hearing to address this failure, and to help us prevent further loss of life. Today I’m still asking: where are the House Democrats? And, what is the purpose of even having a Veterans Affairs Committee if all we do is sit idly by and hope the problem gets solved? We should be doing our job, protecting Veteran’s and their spouses and the healthcare providers and entire staff of the LaSalle facility by actively engaging in the problem solving process.”

State Representative David Welter represents part of LaSalle County and personally knows veterans’ and family members that have died as a result of the outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

“I personally know families that have loved ones in the LaSalle Veterans Home. Communication has been limited and some of the testing performed was jarred with delayed results leaving families with questions and great concerns,” Welter said. “If that’s not bad enough, the hand sanitation used throughout the home was not effective in killing the COVID-19 virus. The Governor must take direct interest in this situation and take immediate action.”

State Representative Dan Swanson, a US Army and Army National Guard Veteran, says the State of Illinois owes veterans and their families an explanation on the failures that occurred at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

“28 Veterans who served our Country honorably have died due to the COVID outbreak at LaSalle,” Swanson said. “Many more throughout the state are suffering or have died in Veterans Homes. Illinoisans deserve answers from the Governor and IDVA Director Chapa LaVia, and more than that, they deserve strong actions taken to protect these hometown heroes who were the original essential workers in protecting our freedom. We demand that the House Veterans Affairs Committee convene for further hearings to learn answers to these questions and discuss protocols put into place to minimize further rampant exposure.”

House Republicans to Pritzker: Stop Pointing Fingers and Start Providing Solutions for Massive Failure and Continuous Fraud at IDES. With identity fraud tied to unemployment claims in Illinois at an all-time high, Illinois State Representatives Tom Bennett, Terri Bryant and Mike Murphy held a press conference Friday and said Governor Pritzker needs to stop pointing fingers and start proposing solutions.

Since March, more than 212,000 fraudulent claims have been filed with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Most fraudulent activity involves unemployment benefit debit cards with money on them that are being received by Illinoisans who did not file for benefits, or business owners who cannot obtain Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) funds because their identities were stolen and money due to them was channeled to a cyber-hacker.

“Governor Pritzker continues to blame the federal government for his department’s failings, but it’s time for JB Pritzker to take responsibility for the fact that his IDES has failed at every turn during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said State Rep. Terri Bryant. “Rather than continuing to play the blame game, the Governor needs to fix this failed system once and for all and share with the General Assembly his plan to protect the identities of Illinoisans at risk of having their personal information compromised.”

State Rep. Tom Bennett said Illinoisans who receive no help or no callbacks from IDES are turning to their legislators for assistance, often in a state of desperation. “Helping constituents who are having difficulties applying for benefits and receiving answers from IDES has become the number one issue which I and my district office staff have been spending time on since the outbreak began in March,” said Bennett. “Meanwhile groceries still have to be bought and bills still have to be paid while the applicants wait. The delays and failures at IDES are unacceptable. Government must do better!”

While the Attorney General’s Office recommends that all people use strong account passwords, monitor their credit reports, register for fraud alerts by text or email, and pay close attention to all financial accounts, Rep. Mike Murphy said that’s not nearly enough, and that state government needs to do more to protect people from fraud. “Telling families who need to put food on the table to monitor their credit reports for potential unemployment fraud is a completely unacceptable abdication of the government’s responsibility to the people,” said Murphy. “Then telling victims who are just trying to stay afloat to repay the government for its failure to protect against fraud adds serious insult to injury. We are long overdue for public hearings, the legislature needs to convene and concrete answers to address the ongoing problems at IDES must be provided.”

Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is moving towards the conclusion of the BIG grant program, the State effort to provide small emergency grants to Illinois small businesses that have been devastated by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. BIG money is targeted towards businesses that operate in social settings that are affected by the contagious virus and its mitigation. A the top of the list of businesses affected are restaurants and bars, but also affected are gyms, salons, banquet halls, party halls, play places, movie theaters, and many other locations that create hundreds of thousands of Illinois jobs in better times. Thousands of eligible applicants have applied to DCEO for grants of not less than $5,000 and not more than $150,000.

In a meeting of the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission (RICC), which was live-streamed on Tuesday, House Republican Reps. Bennett, Caulkins, and Murphy closely questioned top DCEO officials about the program. Representative Dan Caulkins took DCEO officials to task over their enforcement of onerous rules that small businesses have to comply with in order to get a business-interruption grant. Although BIG grants are funded with federal money from Washington, nothing in the underlying federal law that created this program imposes rules on the grant recipients. Caulkins pointed out that these rules were implemented by the Pritzker administration after the money had become available and before the money was distributed to Illinois small businesses. Compliance with these rules is imposing additional burdens, not imposed by the federal government, upon Illinois small businesspeople as they face the pandemic and its negative economic effects.

New mitigations, case counts. The Tier 3 Resurgence Mitigation order remained in effect this week. Numerous controls have been ordered on activities large and small across the state, with restaurants and taverns, places of indoor recreation such as gyms, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters, among the many businesses hard-hit by the crisis.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) continued to report daily this week on new statistics of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. IDPH gets continuous, real-time reports from hospitals and clinics across Illinois. On a typical day in Illinois this week, dedicated front-line workers administered almost 100,000 coronavirus tests; in a typical case count, slightly more than 10% of each set of cases generated “positive” results, meaning that approximately 10,000 new cases of the contagious disease had been reported and logged on each day.

Many of the people who get COVID-19 develop case complications of varying levels of seriousness. Some have to be hospitalized; and despite dramatic advances in COVID-19 health care treatment, a bit more than 1% of the total number of new cases of the disease end with the death of the patient. As is now well known, the disease is especially dangerous for patients who are elderly. Nursing home care in a group setting is a known risk factor.

Vaccine planning. Working with the federal National Academy of Medicine (NAM), with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and with epidemiologists in other states, IDPH has generated a tentative priority list to govern availability of and administration of a COVID-19 vaccine when it is approved and becomes available. Two separate global pharmaceutical firms have announced pending worldwide availability of a coronavirus vaccine, and each firm says their vaccine is more than 90% effective.

First in line, in Illinois, will be critically important health care workers. These front-line health care workers stand at the head of the line not only because they themselves are at risk, but because shortages in trained medical personnel could affect the quality and level of care given to patients who present with emerging medical emergencies of their own. Staff and residents in long-term care facilities, including but not limited to nursing homes, will also be given a very high priority for the vaccine when it becomes available.

Also occupying a high position will be essential workers, including law enforcement, firefighters, school teachers and employees, child care workers, and persons who work in essential retail activities such as grocery stores.

Public health experts do not expect there to be enough doses of vaccine for everyone immediately upon vaccine approval. Some people will have to wait their turn. The IDPH priority list is defined as a draft planning guide, and changes may be made to these plans as vaccines become available.

Revenue numbers for November 2020 show approach of new grim picture in Illinois. The November 2020 revenue numbers indicated that, as new COVID-19 mitigation orders took effect throughout Illinois, the Illinois private-sector economy was re-entering a period of extremely challenging conditions. Illinois sales tax revenues, which reflect overall Illinois retail activity and spending patterns, had been ticking up in the later summer and early fall months of calendar year 2020 as Illinois consumers tried to rebound from the spring shutdown. However, retail sales tax receipts fell, on a year-over-year basis, in November 2020 by $23 million. The decline came as restaurants were ordered to close across Illinois and unemployment showed signs of once again worsening.

Overall revenues into Illinois general funds continued to grow in November 2020 compared to November 2019, but most of this improvement was due to temporary and one-time moneys from the U.S. federal government in the form of reimbursements for healthcare spending. In addition, much of the State individual income tax over-performance was due to temporary U.S. federal aid enacted by the CARES Act, a funding stream that will begin to dry up after December 30, 2020. The November 2020 report published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) offered little hope that Illinois can deal with its current budget crisis and structural budget deficit from its own resources. Existing revenue sources will not generate sufficient funds to keep Illinois’ current spending patterns and commitments, with CGFA anticipating a $4.1 billion deficit for FY21 at current appropriation levels. In the meantime, Illinois’ general obligation debt continues to be rated on the verge of “junk bond” status.

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