Legislative News from State Rep. Amy Grant

Yesterday the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), which handles unemployment claims for the state, reported that more than one million Illinoisans have lost their jobs since March 1. It’s a startling statistic and represents a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. The stay home order was the right thing to do, but we have flattened the COVID-19 curve and the Pritzker administration can no longer ignore the staggering effects his executive orders are having on our economy.

Some members of the House Republican Leadership Team held an online news conference on Wednesday, where they denounced the Governor’s reopen plan and called on the Governor or Speaker Madigan to call lawmakers back to the Capitol. Click here to watch that press conference.

Like the top headline from the Thursday Chicago Tribune says, the Pritzker plan does not work. It will only drive unemployment higher and add to the economic devastation.

Governor Ignores House Republicans’ COVID-19 Reopening & Recovery Framework

A comprehensive economic reopening and recovery framework created by House Republicans (HGOP) was shared with Governor Pritzker prior to the surprise unveiling of his own recovery plan. Even though he had our suggestions in hand, none of the HGOP ideas were included in the plan the Governor unveiled on Tuesday. Click here to read the HGOP plan.

Our plan balances important public health priorities with the need for businesses to reopen so Illinoisans can get back to work. The HGOP plan calls for a regional approach utilizing ten economic recovery zones with a second option to allow for a county-led approach. Through this approach, community and economic leaders would work in cooperation with county health departments to drive decisions at a more localized level, with oversight and input by the State. Widespread testing, contact tracing and reporting of COVID-19 cases would be an integral part of the HGOP plan, and benchmarks similar to the markers used in the Pritzker plan would be utilized, but without the 28-day data point requirement. No zone or county could simply decree that no restrictions apply.

Plans would outline which data sets would be required for the loosening of restrictions, as well as include a contingency plan for the implementation of tighter restrictions if cases trend back upward. Each smaller regional plan would require the approval of relevant county boards, county health departments and hospitals, and submission to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The HGOP plan also calls for the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral COVID-19 Economic Recovery Commission, which would be assembled immediately and include public health experts, business and labor leaders, economic policy experts, educators, community leaders and state and local elected officials, including some members of the General Assembly. This group would work collaboratively to forward COVID-19-related recovery legislation to the House and Senate for consideration. The joint commission would reflect the geographic balance of the state and have no partisan majority, similar to the Illinois Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR).

If you support this kind of reopening framework as opposed to what the Governor has presented, please consider signing this petition.

Take My COVID-19 Response Survey!

I am seeking input from community members about the handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Illinois. Through a short survey, you can weigh in on issues relative to the closing and reopening of businesses, the use of face coverings and masks, and the performance of Illinois’ unemployment system during the Coronavirus pandemic. The survey can be accessed through this link.

Governor JB Pritzker issued the initial disaster proclamation on March 9, triggering broad executive powers that are allowed during declared states of emergency. Since the declaration, Pritzker has issued 6 executive orders, including:

  • Closing all public and private K-12 schools through the remainder of this academic year
  • Closing all restaurants and bars to inside service
  • Closing most businesses
  • Issuing a Stay Home Order on March 20, which was extended on April 1 and April 30
  • Providing the Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections with the authority to release some prison inmates on COVID-19 related furloughs

Public safety is important, but there is a key element of common sense lacking in Governor Pritzker’s and House Speaker Mike Madigan’s handling of this pandemic. People are calling me and stopping me in public, demanding more transparency and action on this issue. They’re demanding the legislature be called back into session, and I agree. Governor Pritzker is silencing the representative voices in the General Assembly, and the Speaker seems unwilling to call us back to Springfield to work collaboratively on solutions that protect safety while putting our economy back on track.

Independent Contractors and 1099 Workers Can Begin to File for Unemployment on Monday, May 11

Independent contractors, sole proprietors, gig workers and those who receive 1099 tax forms, who up to this point have not been eligible for jobless benefits, can apply for out of work benefits beginning Monday, May 11. The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) provides 100% federally-funded unemployment benefits to out-of-work Illinoisans who are not eligible for the state’s traditional unemployment programs.

Before becoming eligible for PUA benefits, this classification of out-of-work Illinoisans must have first applied through the regular IDES unemployment channels and been denied benefits. It is a required first step, because the letter of denial of benefits is mandatory for determining eligibility within the new PUA system.

The new portal for the PUA program opens on Monday as part of the IDES website. PUA claims will be backdated to ensure benefits from the filer’s first week of job loss, with an earliest unemployment date of February 2, 2020, and benefits will continue as long as the individual remains unemployed due to COVID-19, but no later than December 26 of this year. Click here to learn more.

House Republicans Create List of Priorities that will Aid Illinois’ Economic Recovery

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and the March stay home order was put into place, House Republicans created an internal Economic Recovery Working Group. Chaired by Deputy Republican Leader Dan Brady (R-Bloomington), the group held a series of virtual meetings to address the inevitable economic devastation that was sure to follow the state shut down. The loss of small businesses and the jobs they provide would have a long term impact on all of our communities. Through the course of their meetings and with the input of leaders from around the state, the working group outlined the following priorities that will aid in the economic recovery of Illinois. 

  1. Repeal Progressive Tax Constitutional Amendment – The world has changed so much in just a matter of weeks; we too must change how we look at state government. The General Assembly needs to remove the Progressive Tax Amendment from the ballot, repeal the accompanying high tax rates, and commit to no new taxes. Businesses and residents need certainty in these chaotic times. 
  2. Reexamine the Minimum Wage Mandate – The General Assembly failed to recognize regionalization and other factors as it rushed to pass a minimum wage bill last year. An additional government mandate creating higher costs for our employers when they are in such a perilous position needs to be re-evaluated immediately. 
  3. Enhanced Access to Government Services – Residents of our state should not be burdened with the red tape of Illinois government during these stressful times. Professional, firearm, driver and educational licenses should all be automatically extended and an easy process should be created for first time applicants and for renewals of expired licenses. This will help get people back into the Illinois workforce. Additionally, fees ranging from starting a small business to trailer licensing should be reduced. 
  4. Property Tax Payment Fairness – Many homeowners have lost sources of income during this time, so we must remove late fee penalties from property taxes and stop all tax sales in an effort to help them stay on their feet and in their homes. 
  5. Property Tax Relief – For decades, Illinois has struggled with high property taxes and the General Assembly has failed to deliver any meaningful relief. To help our struggling homeowners, farmers, businesses and local governments, we must look to cut property tax bills in meaningful ways, including by reducing state mandates.
  6. Protect Unemployment Insurance Benefits – Closures of non-essential businesses and stay at home orders have resulted in mass layoffs in many sectors of our economy. Employers should not be punished with higher insurance costs due to mandated closures. Unemployed workers experiencing delays in benefits processing deserve better customer service from IDES. 
  7. Enhance Business Liquidity – As the pandemic continues, sales and payroll tax collections should be deferred. All businesses across the state should be covered by the deferral to make sure they have the necessary cash flow available to them. The state should also institute a tax credit to incentivize hiring of Illinois residents and college graduates. 
  8. Creation of Business Loan Program – Dedicated state resources like cannabis and liquor taxes should be temporarily redirected to create a statewide microloan program for small businesses to give them access to much-needed capital. 
  9. Standardizing Essential Businesses and Working towards Reopening – It is confusing for many businesses to figure out what is “essential.” A shoe store may not be deemed essential, yet a big box store can sell shoes. We must quickly work to redefine what is essential and create a practical regional approach to begin reopening our storefronts when it is deemed safe to do so. 
  10. Automatic Sunset Extensions – At a time when there is great uncertainty about the General Assembly’s session calendar, we owe it to residents across the state to automatically extend all sunsets that expire in the next 3 years. This is especially important for our healthcare workers as they have many more pressing issues to address outside of lobbying the General Assembly.