Week in Review: State budget, cash bail, jobs & more


Pricey programs included in Restore Illinois September 2023 report. The data was included in the Pritzker administration’s “Report to the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission: September 2023.” The Commission was created by General Assembly action in 2020 during the opening phase of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. As a Commission, it was created to serve as an oversight panel over the State’s pandemic-oriented Economic Recovery Plan, and possesses no administrative powers.

With the coronavirus pandemic apparently winding down in 2022-2023, the administrative economic revitalization efforts are winding down as well. Almost all of the federal money given to the Pritzker administration to spend for COVID-19 relief has been spent, or has been firmly obligated, and this month’s Report was meant to serve as a series of notifications of these wind-downs. At the same time, the Governor’s Office and the State agencies with operational responsibilities over many facets of the grant programs created as parts of the overall revitalization effort, assert that they made many efforts to grant out money to challenged and marginalized families, parents, child care providers, and communities. In some cases, it took significant time frames for eligible members of these communities to complete the paperwork and get relief funding or a grant.

One of the largest set of COVID-19 relief programs saw total expenses of $1.6 billion, shared out over a series of programs and federal appropriations. This was Illinois’ spend-down of its share of federal Child Care Relief Funds. America’s child care service providers, including in Illinois, were heavily affected by COVID-19. Constantly changing pandemic administrative rules and isolation orders tended to increase demand for child care, while reducing available personnel. A series of relief programs provided supplemental payments to eligible child care providers. In some cases, these payments paid, or helped to pay, for child care services provided to some families with children. Another chunk of this overall money, totaling $60 million, was paid to providers under a strict earmark that directed the money be paid out as bonuses to childcare workers who stayed on the job. Some childcare workers received bonuses of up to $1,000.

A typical chunk of the Pritzker administration’s Economic Recovery Plan was $175 million oriented towards “Back to Business” (B2B) grants for restaurants, hotels, and creative arts businesses. Formally eligible were Illinois restaurants, taverns, caterers, food trucks, wineries, breweries, distilleries, live venue operators, performing arts businesses, arts education businesses, theaters, museums, cultural heritage organizations, hotels, motels, inns, and lodging sites. Within these overall groups. targeted for assistance were small businesses that represent marginalized communities within Illinois.

In some cases, eligible offices and operations were additionally eligible for assistance to commence their participation in the grant process. A Community Navigator networking program, operated by public/private facilitators in association with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), swung into operation to find eligible Illinois residents and help them apply for B2B grants. A separate $14.6 million was set aside for DCEO assistance to Community Navigators. These facilitators have told DCEO that they helped fill out approximately 1,730 successful grant applications.

Other Illinois grant and assistance programs targeted financially stressed renters, financially stressed homeowners, participants in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), participants in the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), and other eligible groups.

Concerns intensify over end of Illinois cash bail. On September 18, Illinois courts ceased to enjoy the power to demand that accused criminal defendants post cash bail. Pointing to the radical nature of the change in Illinois pretrial procedure, the international newsweekly “The Economist” ran a story, datelined in Chicago, that was headlined "Ending cash bail: Busting out.” The widely-read magazine/online news service alluded to “the fear that dangerous criminals will be let free,” as the courts will no longer have the legal right to detain them during the substantial lengths of time (often greater than 12 months) that separate the arrest and the criminal trial.

Many Illinois state’s attorneys share these concerns. On Saturday, September 23, Robert Berlin, the DuPage County state’s attorney, pinpointed a case in which DNA from a $68,000 robbery crime scene matched the name and identity of Terry Johnson, a man who had previously been granted parole for armed robbery and aggravated battery. Despite this status, when Johnson appeared before a court hearing last week on the most recent robbery case, the judge granted pretrial release to him. Berlin told Chicago’s ABC-7 that the judge who was hearing Johnson’s pretrial release status “felt his hands were tied because of the [cash bail] law.” Although Johnson has now promised to cooperate with the court and attend his future status hearings, Berlin pointed out the defendant’s prior criminal record and history.

In another case last week, while carrying out a traffic stop on Interstate 80 near Geneseo, the Illinois State Police deployed a K-9 assistance unit. The canine officer alerted law enforcement, and a vehicular search revealed 5,321 pounds of cannabis. The two-ton cargo, a volume that was more than 28 times the largest (Class X felony) volume category contained within Illinois’ Cannabis Control Act charging sheets, led to the arrest of the two defendants who were occupying the vehicle at the time of the traffic stop. However, under the terms of Illinois’ new no-cash-bail law, when the two men appeared before a Henry County court, the two defendants were released pending trial. Their court appearance took place on Thursday, September 21.

Although current law allows cannabis to be sold in small quantities by licensed Illinois dispensaries to customers, when sold legally the substance is heavily regulated, and its legal sales price is affected by regulations and taxes. Illegal cannabis continues to be sold on the Illinois street. The I-80 defendants are accused of transporting high-potency cannabis with an estimated street value of approximately $10 million.

Proposed Gotion battery factory raises concerns. Proponents point to the new jobs that would be created in Manteno, Illinois, should the proposed plant be built in line with the September 2023 announcement. As additional facts about the proposed factory come to light, however, questions are being asked

The proposed Gotion factory complex would build lithium-ion battery packs and battery cells. It is expected that many of these production units would be used to power electric vehicles (EVs). Illinois is under pressure to accept a stake in the fast-growing EV market. Many concerns are being raised over this pressure and the specifics of this deal. The State of Illinois, and local governments in and around Manteno, have pledged a package of incentives that is currently valued at $536 million over the long-term operation of the proposed factory complex. However, it is not known when the proposed factory complex will be built and go into production, and no public consultations took place prior to announcement of the deal and package.

Shortage seen of future Illinois volunteer firefighters. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans live in volunteer fire protection districts. These districts cover more than half of the land of Illinois. They protect our families and properties against emergency events that take place outside the boundary lines of a full-time fire protection district. For more than a century, since the invention of the affordable motor car, Illinoisan in many Downstate and rural areas have been able to depend on rapid-movement volunteers to perform the essential works of firefighting and emergency response.

An investigative report published in the Chicago Tribune indicates that this personnel model could be on the verge of breaking down. The overall shortage of U.S. and Illinois labor, combined with ever-increasing mandates imposed on emergency responders to learn and be certified in essential tasks, is making recruitment of new volunteer firefighters very challenging in many fire protection districts. Well-meaning mandates, and their agents, are continually trying to teach Illinois first responders new tasks and responsibilities. New toxic chemicals, which firefighters must protect themselves against, are being developed and distributed. New advances in emergency medical response science are increasing the burdens on those first responders who are keeping up their medical certifications.

In addition to these underlying trends, the ever-growing percentage of Illinoisans who are senior citizens, particularly in many rural and Downstate areas, is increasing the load on first responders – especially those first responders who among the diminishing population of rural Illinois who are young adults. Volunteer firefighters are customarily compensated by payments of their expenses plus stipends, but a typical paid-out stipend is incurred by the emergency call. The typical stipend structure for a volunteer firefighter, or non-firefighter first responder, falls far short of what full-time compensation would be.

A new law, passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, appreciates Illinois’ volunteer first responders by the creation of a State income tax credit of up to $500 per income tax filer. Eligible for the credit are first responders who earn less than $5,000 a year in stipends for services provided to a fire protection district. The new income tax credit was created as part of SB 1963, signed into law in June as Public Act 103-9. The Tribune investigative report was published on Sunday, September 24.

Illinois jobless rate rose to 4.1% in August 2023. The change from 4.0% in July 2023 signals a turn away from so-called “full employment” in Illinois. “Full employment” is defined as an unemployment rate of less than 4.0%. Many states that neighbor Illinois currently have full employment; examples include Indiana (3.4% in August 2023), Missouri (2.8% in August), and Wisconsin (2.9% in August).

The August 2023 4.1% unemployment rate reflects Illinois’ statewide net job losses in professional and business services (net 3,300 jobs lost in August 2023, relative to July 2023), and trade, transportation, and utilities (net 1,100 jobs lost). These trends reflect continued rationalization and productivity-sizing among professional partnerships, firms that provide consultancy and information services to business, and retail firms. These are areas where computer software and artificial intelligence, including computer software that operates online to target and sell goods and services to customers is playing an increasing role. By contrast, educational and health services, which largely must be offered in person on a face-to-face basis, net-gained 4,400 Illinois jobs in August 2023.

With regards to individual metro areas within Illinois in August 2023, some areas continued to do better than others in keeping down their local unemployment rates. The official overall statewide August rate of 4.1% reflects a statistical overlay imposed by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), called the “seasonal adjustment.” Without this seasonal adjustment, jobless rates are significantly higher, reflecting Illinois residents looking for jobs and not getting them. IDES publishes a not-seasonally-adjusted rate for significant Illinois metropolitan areas, and this rate – for August 2023 – varied from a low of 4.6% in the Quad Cities to a high of 7.4% in greater Rockford. As in previous months, three Illinois metro areas with a historical connection to manufacturing and heavy industry – Danville (7.1% in August 2023 – unadjusted rate), Decatur (7.2%) and Rockford (7.4%) – showed comparatively high unemployment rates in the month listed. The Illinois unemployment figures were published on Thursday, September 21.

Generic drugmaker Rising Pharmaceuticals announces plans to reopen Decatur plant complex. The manufacturing and packaging facility, which includes 230,000 square feet of production space, had been used by a Chicago-area firm, Akorn Inc., to manufacture generic and prescription drugs. In February, however, Akorn filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and immediately ceased all operations, including production and shipping in Decatur. More than 400 Illinois workers lost their jobs on the spot.

In September a different drug firm, Rising Pharma, stepped in to announce it was the new operator of the Decatur plant. Rising stated that it produces more than 180 generic preparations approved by federal regulators for sale to health care professionals and drugstores. While Rising did not say what their production plans were for the Decatur plant, demand is increasing for sterile injectables and sterile ophthalmic drugs – which include drugs that must be contaminant-free because they are administered to the eyes or through blood injections and infusions. The New Jersey-based acquiror did not say how many people would be hired for work at the restarted plant.

Major audit report finding against Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The troubled Department has a wide range of statutory responsibilities. A central element of many of these tasks is the prompt transfer of information whenever a child is believed to be seriously at risk. For example, if there is an indicated report of child abuse and neglect, the Department is required by law to promptly move these reports to the child’s school, to local law enforcement, and to the local State’s attorney. The State law that attempts to protect abused children in Illinois directs DCFS to move these reports, and notify these involved parties, within prompt periods of time.

This week, however, an audit report from the Office of the Illinois Auditor General indicated shocking failures by DCFS personnel in moving these pieces of information, including individual children at risk, to allies whose knowledge was actually or potentially necessary to help these children. In one case, involving a report that chemical tests on a newborn baby indicated the presence of one or more controlled substances, the relevant state’s attorney was notified of the chemical findings 920 days (more than 2½ years) later by DCFS. In another case, involving an investigation of alleged physical or sexual abuse of a child who was enrolled in a school, the school was notified of the abuse investigation 890 days (more than 2 ¼ years) later by DCFS.

In the most serious category of delayed reports, those involving allegations of the death of a child by abuse, serious injury to a child, torture of a child, malnutrition of a child, and sexual about of a child, the law requires notification to local law enforcement/the county State’s attorney within 24 hours. In a series of cases flagged by the Auditor General, these notifications were made 5 days to 43 days after the cases were raised. Many other delays were flagged and tabulated by the Auditor General auditors.

The Office of the Illinois Auditor General is an independent, nonpartisan agency that operates within the Illinois General Assembly. It is asked by law to conduct audits of State executive agencies, such as DCFS, including audits where State agencies have fallen short of meeting their statutory responsibilities. This week’s audit findings by the Auditor General cover DCFS conduct during the two-year period that began on July 1, 2020 and ended on June 30, 2022. The audit was released on Tuesday, September 26.