Week in Review: Jobs, fire dept grants, Snap-chat settlement & more


Illinois metro area unemployment rates for July. The numbers reflect the overall Illinois unemployment numbers gathered for July 2022 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with additional data reflecting the unemployment numbers in fourteen major metropolitan areas around Illinois. The statewide unemployment rate was 4.8% in July 2022, but was higher in several metro areas with traditional ties to manufacturing and heavy industry. The unemployment rate was 6.5% in Decatur and in Rockford, and was 5.7% in Danville.

In Metro Chicago, Illinois’ largest metro area by population, the July 2022 jobless rate was 4.9%. As calculated by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), Metro Chicago includes both Cook County and adjacent DuPage County. Lake County, a separate area for this purpose, had a July 2022 unemployment rate of 4.0%. Lake County benefits because its numbers are bundled together with Kenosha County, a Wisconsin county that is current enjoying boom economic conditions.

Several other metro areas of Illinois also benefitted for the same reason. The Moline-Rock Island metro area, on Illinois’ northwest border, is grouped in with greater Davenport, Iowa for purposes to counting unemployed persons. The Quad Cities, which groups together Davenport, Moline, and Rock Island, currently has the lowest unemployment rate of any enumerated region connected with Illinois. The July 2022 Quad Cities unemployment rate was 3.8%. This number was affected by the overall Iowa unemployment rate; in July 2022 the statewide Iowa rate was 2.5%, or 2.3% lower than Illinois’ overall unemployment rate.

State announces $15 million expansion of Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has announced a $15 million expansion of the Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program to increase training opportunities, expand the talent pipeline, and boost diversity in the construction industry and building trades. State Rep. Jeff Keicher, a member of the Illinois Works Review Panel, shared the news this week.

“Our region of the state is home to many exciting and good-paying careers in the skilled trades, and has been for generations,” Rep. Keicher said. “Both my dad and my grandpa were carpenters, a trade which allowed them to provide for themselves and their family. I want the current generation of students and those currently in the workforce transitioning to a new career to have access to apprenticeship and artisan training programs that equip them for jobs currently in demand. The foundation of a strong economy starts with its workforce, and thanks to our efforts Illinois is poised to be a leader in making sure our workers have the skills needed to compete and succeed.”

The Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program launched in 2021 with the goal of increasing diversity and access to apprenticeship programs. Comprehensive pre-apprenticeship programs can help participants gain admission to apprenticeship programs, which provide a greater opportunity to obtain employment in the construction trades. During the first program year, Illinois Works awarded nearly $10 million in funding to 22 organizations, servicing approximately 1,000 participants across the state. While programming for the first year is still in progress through the end of 2022, preliminary enrollment figures show encouraging representation among key target demographics.

The Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program is a key component of the Illinois Works Jobs Program Act – a result of landmark legislation enacted by the General Assembly to prepare residents for jobs created by the historic $45 billion capital expansion plan.

Approximately $8 million in funding will target increased geographic diversity and participation from diverse groups not represented in current programming through a competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), and approximately $7 million will be available through a contract extension to current grantees who have excelled at key benchmarks.

The deadline to apply for the Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program NOFO is September 27, 2022. Additionally, DCEO will be hosting a series of informational webinars. Additional information and registration links can be found here: WIOA Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship NOFO 2022 (illinoisworknet.com)

North Carolina ranked “Best State for Business”; Illinois ranked 19th of 50 states. CNBC has proclaimed North Carolina as “America’s Top State for Business.” Working within the same rating matrix, CNBC ranked Illinois 19th among the 50 states. Pushing the Prairie State down in the rankings were low marks for its economy (44th of 50) and business friendliness (40th of 50). Illinois scored better on infrastructure (3rd of 50) and education (6th of 50).

Major bridge replacement project to snarl Peoria traffic across Illinois River. The McClugage Bridge, a four-lane cantilever span first built in 1948 and double-spanned in 1982, is being partially shut down in preparation for its replacement. The bridge carries U.S. Route 150 traffic across the Illinois River and Peoria Lake from the north side of Peoria to East Peoria and return. From Monday, August 22, until autumn 2023, only one lane will carry traffic in each direction across the river. Four Peoria bridges cross the river, but the McClugage is the only one north of downtown. The 1948 bridge, used extensively by commuters from Woodford County, will be replaced by a new bridge being built by contractors for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Users of the old bridge can see the piers for the new $167 million bridge rising from the water. IDOT has set up a website which provides details about the bridge project.

Fire equipment grants available to Illinois fire departments. Applications are now open for the Office of the State Fire Marshal's Small Equipment Grant Program. OSFM will award $1.5 million to eligible Illinois fire departments and ambulance services for the purchase of small firefighting and ambulance equipment. All interested departments should send an application to OSFM electronically or postmarked no later than November 30, 2022.

All applicants are required to have participated in the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) for a minimum of two years prior to applying. The OSFM will require departments to be current from August 2020 through August 2022 for this grant period. Additional information including the application can be found here.

Fire truck/ambulance revolving loan program application period opens. Fire Departments and Protection Districts across Illinois can apply for interest free loans for fire trucks through the Illinois Fire Truck Revolving Loan Program. Applications must be electronically submitted or postmarked no later than October 31, 2022.

Applications to the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) should contain plans to purchase a fire truck, brush truck, or ambulance. The OSFM, if it approved the application, will lend a successful applicant up to $350,000 to buy a fire truck/brush truck, and up to $200,000 to buy an ambulance.

Many of these vehicles cost much more than $350,000/$200,000, and the program is meant to provide help to fire protection districts, other units of local government, and ambulance districts and ambulance services providers. Not-for-profit private-sector ambulance service providers are eligible to apply. Approximately $2.7 million will be available through this loan window.

New Legislative Inspector General (LIG) describes role. Appointed in February, LIG Michael McCuskey says his role is to serve as a watchdog, not a prosecutor. By statute, the LIG is a fully independent part of the General Assembly system. The LIG and his or her staff shall investigate violations of the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act when they take place within the boundaries of the state legislature. The LIG is required to listen to, and take in for its records, all allegations and reports of violations of the Act. The Office of the Legislative Inspector General has jurisdiction over all current and former members and employees of the General Assembly for conduct during their times or terms in office. With bipartisan consent, the LIG can forward complaints against a named individual to law enforcement.

In the recent past, the Office of the Legislative Inspector General has been a challenged, troubled office. During the time of former Speaker Michael Madigan, although the Office of the LIG theoretically had jurisdiction over the conduct of Springfield legislators and their alleged malfeasance in office, the LIG office was often kept vacant or powerless. Madigan left office in 2021. In early 2022, the former Speaker was indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. This was part of a series of indictments that also included several key allies and senior aides of the former Speaker. The indictments are for a series of charges related to alleged acts of influence-peddling and legislative corruption in Springfield.

McCuskey indicated in an interview this week that he wants to move on to a new paradigm of investigation and law-enforcement referral within his office. He added that his office has received 40 complaints so far this year about alleged conduct by General Assembly members and their staffs, has investigated them all, and has found that none show serious wrongdoing.

Snap Inc. settlement announced. The settlement refers to alleged biometric misuse of information gathered from Illinois residents by Snapchat, a well-known image platform and family of websites. The allegation, which Snapchat continues to deny, is that Snapchat’s funhouse Lens function collects biometric information about its users’ identities and facial features. A user can post a selfie photo, use Lens to comically alter the image, and share it with friends. The friends will only get to see the snap for a limited time, but it is alleged that digital information about each actual image is placed in Snapchat’s electronic vaults, and the actual and altered images live on forever.

The allegation claimed that Snapchat’s Lens violated the Illinois Biometric Information and Privacy Act, a State law that aims to protect the digital privacies of Illinois residents. Snap Inc. continues to deny the charge, but has agreed to pay a $35 million settlement. The agreement followed a $650 million settlement by Facebook in resolution of a class-action lawsuit that also alleged violation of facial-feature biometric privacy. More than a million Illinois Facebook users have begun receiving small checks in this settlement. The Snap Inc. settlement agreement was announced on Tuesday, August 23.

Southern Illinois fair starts this weekend, continues through Labor Day. Many Illinoisans will celebrate September’s three-day weekend at the Du Quoin State Fair, the gathering that celebrates the culture and heritage of Southern Illinois. The Du Quoin State Fair begins on Friday, August 26, and will continue until Labor Day, September 5. Scheduled events include Veteran’s Day at the Fair, Sunday, August 28; a demolition derby at the half-mile track on Saturday, September 3; First Responder honor day on Sunday, September 4; and many track racing events.