Dear friend,

 

Last week the Illinois General Assembly completed a truncated session, passing a budget, revising gaming law to enable Chicago to create a casino, providing assistance to Illinoisans impacted by COVID-19, and enacting a new hospital assessment program to provide critical resources to health care providers across the state. Below are overviews of the action we took. I will provide additional details on the budget in a future email. Please reach out with any questions or concerns at 773-769-1717.

 

Sincerely,


Heather A. Steans
State Senator, 7th Illinois Senate District

 

Budget

Building a budget in this uncertain time proved challenging. With the pandemic and associated closures of many economic sectors, revenues have dropped precipitously in Illinois, as in every state. It remains unclear what additional assistance the federal government will provide states, how Illinois’ economy will bounce back as the state reopens, and whether or not enacts a progressive income tax.

 

Given these unknowns, we opted for a budget that preserves services during this time of need, knowing we may need to adjust the budget in the fall. Overall the budget keeps most programs funded at the same as the current year. K-12 education, higher education, public safety programs and general government services are preserved so that our school districts, universities and community colleges, and police and correctional institutions can maintain critical services. In human service arena most programs are also maintained at current levels, with some new investments in the Department of Children and Family Services and programs that care for elderly and developmentally disabled individuals. We also implemented a new funding mechanism in the Medicaid program to direct additional resources to health care providers around the state.

 

If additional assistance from the federal government is not provided and Illinois does not change its income tax structure, we provided authority for the administration to borrow up to $5 billion through the new Federal Reserve Bank credit facility it recently established. I will provide more details on the budget in my next newsletter.

 

A Chicago casino

Included in a package of legislation on gaming was a major change that will finally make it viable for a casino to operate in Chicago. All revenue from a Chicago casino will go toward paying the city's police and fire pension funds.

 

Senate Bill 516 removes a 33.3% tax on a casino’s income, and adjusts the rates on table games and slots. 

 

As Illinois moves to expand gaming statewide, we must ensure the process remains transparent and well-regulated. This is just the beginning of a long process that will result in a Chicago casino. Under the legislation, there are public posting and presentation requirements for a proposal for a new casino. As that process moves forward, I will provide further updates.

 

Health care

One of the most important things we can do right now is ensure the long term viability of Medicaid and our hospital system. I sponsored Senate Bill 2541 to increase rates for hospitals serving low-income individuals throughout the state, raise physician rates, and enable hospitals in under-resourced communities to improve health care access and address social determinants of health.

 

The legislation includes $250 million in increases through the hospital assessment program, $50 million in physician rate increases, and $150 million for a hospital transformation fund to help hospitals facing difficulties change what type of institution they are in the interest of more cost-effectively providing care to their community.

 

Additional consideration is included for safety net hospitals and critical access hospitals through a fixed pool funding approach, and high Medicaid hospitals through an increased fixed rate approach.

 

The $150 million hospital and health care transformation program allows an application for funding from the hospital and health care transformation program to incorporate the campus of a hospital closed after Jan. 1, 2018 or a hospital that has provided notice of its intent to close.

 

There were other major pieces of health care legislation that passed the General Assembly last week as well. Senate Bill 1864 contained numerous important health care provisions in light of the pandemic. Among other things, this omnibus package:

  • Directs the Illinois Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services to require Medicaid coverage for services under the psychiatric Collaborative Care Model and to adopt a similar model of its own.
  • Allows HFS to take a set of necessary actions to address the COVID-19 public health emergency to the extent allowed by federal rules until up to a year after emergency. The intent is largely to bypass administrative hurdles and ensure families who need care can access it.
  • Allows individuals who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid to qualify for COVID-19-related medical assistance for the duration of any federal or State declared emergency due to COVID-19.
  • Allows HFS to cover and provide medical assistance to undocumented individuals who would otherwise meet the eligibility requirements for the duration of the state emergency period.
  • requires HFS and the Dept. of Human Services to seek a federal waiver or state plan amendment to allow remote monitoring and support services to be waiver-reimbursable services for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and seniors requiring in-home care.

 

 

Pandemic response

Moving quickly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic must remain our top priority in state government. As part of our efforts during a very short session in Springfield, we directed federal CARES Act funding to help in areas that included contact tracing, rental and mortgage assistance, more assistance for businesses, and child care facilities. Among those efforts:

  • $396 million in rental and mortgage assistance. This will go toward helping renters afford their apartments and toward ensuring rental properties are safe and operational. These resources will aid units that are not already receiving federal or state rental subsidy and have experienced losses due to a tenant’s inability to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • $376 million in grants for businesses that have experienced interruption during the pandemic.
  • $260 million for child care facilities that have had to close their doors due to COVID-19.
  • $600 million to expand the state’s contact tracing capabilities. A complete transformation of our contact tracing system in Illinois is key to eventually defeating the virus.
  • $700 million in state pandemic response that includes spending for PPE, state agency health and safety measures, and other emergency response costs through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

 

As we enter Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, we also need to ensure safe workplaces for employees as businesses operate in pandemic conditions. House Bill 2455 creates a “rebuttable presumption” that a first-responder or essential worker who contracts COVID-19 did so in the course of their employment. An employer would have certain means of rebutting the worker’s claim.

 

Employers may rebut the presumption that an employee contracted COVID-19 in the workplace through the following means:

  • Demonstrating that for at least 14 days prior to the date the employee claims injury (their COVID-19 infection) the workplace was following up-to-date public health guidelines appropriate to their type of business issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Demonstrating that the employee in question was working from home for a period at least 14 days prior to the injury claim.
  • Demonstrating that the employee was exposed to the virus by an alternative source outside the workplace.

 

The legislation also ensures Illinois continues to qualify for federal relief packages by extending unemployment benefits, waiving the one-week unemployment insurance waiting period, and expanding eligibility for unemployment to non-instructional education employees, such as lunch workers and teachers’ aides. Employers would also not be charged for unemployment benefits paid to those out of work due to COVID-19 for benefits issued between March 15, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020.

 

Finally, another reason to get excited: Curbside cocktails are now legal. In the interest of helping bars and restaurants operate during the pandemic, House Bill 2682 allows cocktails mixed by employees to be sold for curbside pickup and delivery. Some restrictions:

  • To-go cocktails must be held in a sealed container with a tamper-proof lid and drivers must store them in a trunk or other compartment inaccessible to themselves or passengers.
  • Delivery must be done by a trained employee over the age of 21 who will verify the age of the purchaser. Third party delivery of cocktails is prohibited. (No Grub Hub or Uber Eats!)
  • The container must also be labeled with the ingredients of the drink, the name of the license holder, the address of the business that sold the product, the volume of the drink, and a message saying the container was filled less than 7 days before the date of sale.
  • This sunsets after a year.

 

 

Ensuring transparent government operations

 

Senate Bill 2135 makes a wide variety of changes to laws that affect state and local government in response to the COVID-19 crisis, aimed at making it easier for local governments to comply with the Open Meetings Act and creating groups to respond to the challenges brought on by the crisis. Some provisions:

  • Government bodies subject to the Open Meetings Act are authorized to meet via audio or video conferencing, as long as the public still has the ability to see or hear the meeting and that two days’ notice of each meeting is provided.
  • Creates the Restore Illinois Collaborative Commission to monitor the governor’s actions regarding the state’s reopening plan.
  • Creates the Task Force on Business Interruption Insurance Policies to investigate these insurance policies in light of COVID-19 and make recommendations for changes.
  • The Broadband Advisory Council is given authority to undertake a study on free internet for all.

To address immediate issues facing the newly forming legalized cannabis industry in Illinois, especially in light of the pandemic, State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) successfully passed legislation out of the Illinois Senate today to expedite the hiring process for new employees, ensure a fair marketplace for independent cannabis businesses and rectify inconsistencies in the law.

“This plan came about through cooperation across the aisle and between both chambers of the legislature, with input from the governor’s administration, law enforcement, and business,” Steans said. “I am grateful for their hard work and for our ability to get this done despite the challenges we’ve faced during the pandemic.”

Currently, employees of cannabis dispensaries face a 45-day backlog between when they apply for a job and when a background check clears them to begin work. Under the plan passed today, new hires could begin work provisionally as they await a background check’s results.

“This backlog was unsustainable even before the pandemic,” Steans said. “As dispensaries need new employees, and so many people are out of work due to the pandemic, this change is immediately necessary.”

The measure also allows medical cannabis patients to fill their prescriptions at any licensed dispensary. Under current law, a cannabis patient is tied to a particular dispensary.

“In light of adult use legalization, the uncertainty the pandemic has caused for travel, and concerns about possible supply issues, this restriction is a barrier that medical patients just shouldn’t need to overcome,” Steans said.

The legislation also places some regulations on how cannabis cultivators supply dispensaries, and when and how cannabis businesses can move in the interest of ensuring a fair marketplace that will be accommodating to new businesses that are granted licenses due to the state’s equity program. Dispensaries established under the state’s older medical use rules and now find themselves in areas where local government has opted out of adult use may relocate under the legislation, but must wait to do so until after an upcoming series of business licenses are approved by state regulators.

“We must ensure that the benefits of cannabis aren’t just going to privileged corporations,” Steans said. “The state’s equity program gives consideration to business owners from communities that have been harmed by the War on Drugs and should benefit from our recovery from it.”

The measure also limits how larger cannabis cultivators are allowed to supply dispensaries in an attempt to ensure smaller, independent dispensaries are not at a significant disadvantage when it comes to their supply.

“New, independent cannabis dispensaries are entering a market already occupied by established businesses,” Steans said. “These small shops should not be at a disadvantage when it comes to real estate and supply.”

Among other changes enacted by House Bill 123, sponsored by Steans in the Senate:

  • No special district taxes on cannabis. Special district taxing bodies (e.g. mosquito abatement districts, cemetery management districts, and many others in Illinois) would not be able to impose taxes on cannabis.
  • Clarifications for publishers. In addition to clarifying how the Freedom of Information Act applies to adult use cannabis business regulation, the law also clarifies that advertising restrictions do not penalize publications who merely report on cannabis.
  • Eliminating the conflict on where a cultivation center can be located. Location restrictions differ between older and newer statute. Under the legislation, newer statutes supersede older ones.
  • Ending double-taxing on cannabis vaping products. Due to an oversight, cannabis vaping products are taxed as both electronic cigarettes and cannabis products under current law. The legislation ensures they are not subject to the e-cigarette tax.

House Bill 123 passed the Senate 46-10. It awaits a vote of concurrence from the Illinois House.

Dear friends,

 

I’m writing to update you on efforts the state is taking to expand unemployment and to bolster the system for processing applications. Unemployment claims are at an unprecedented high, and I am in contact with the Illinois Dept. of Employment Security to keep up to date on the latest information to help you file a claim if you need to.

 

Yesterday, IDES spoke with lawmakers on some of the issues that the department has had with the massive influx of applications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Governor Dan Hynes and IDES Director Thomas Chan hosted the call.

 

Director Chan spoke about the process of applying for regular unemployment insurance (UI). To briefly recap, for a person to be eligible for UI:

  • They must be unemployed through no fault of their own.
  • They must be actively seeking work.

 

Due to the closure of offices, applications are handled via telephone or online application. After filing an application, an applicant is assigned an initial certification date and the applicant must certify that they were unemployed. Recertification must be completed every other week after that initial certification. Also, claims can be backdated as long as IDES knows when your last date of work was.

 

Next, we discussed the new federal programs under the CARES Act, the coronavirus stimulus package recently passed by Congress. The three programs are known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

  • FPUC- provides an additional $600 each week in federally funded benefits until the week ending July 25, 2020. This program has been implemented and payments are being made.
  • PEUC- provides an additional 13 weeks’ worth of federal funded benefits to those who have exhausted the initial 26 weeks. This will be implemented by next week.
  • PUA- provides 100% federally funded UI for those who do not normally receive UI including independent contractors and those not monetarily eligible (churches, church employees, those who didn’t earn money in the base period). This will be implemented by the week of May 11th.

 

Director Chan discussed why there have been delays on the PUA system, the unemployment for independent, gig economy, and contract workers. First and foremost, independent contractors are advised to apply now, which is a change from previous news on this. Those applicants have to be denied traditional unemployment to be eligible for the PUA program.

 

Part of the delay was due to the fact hundreds of pages worth of federal guidance for the PUA program was received just eight days ago, and the unemployment system that IDES uses was originally designed to exclude independent contractors. As a result, IDES has had to design a separate method to look at tax returns of those applicants who are independent contractors.

 

Next, Director Chan talked about how Illinois is handling the high amount of funds needed and the solvency of funding for unemployment. The good news: Illinois in in good shape currently, even with the increase in payouts. He said if our state fund were to become underfunded as a result, (as it did during the Great Recession), we would be able to borrow money from the federal government at little to no interest, or to issue bonds.

 

I am determined to keep you up to date as new information about unemployment becomes available, and will communicate further as soon as we know more.

 

Join me for a virtual town hall tonight at 7 p.m.

Tonight I will join U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy and 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman for a virtual town hall event to speak about coronavirus response at all levels of government. I hope you’ll join me for some important information and submit questions. The event will be available through a Facebook Live event, which you can find at the the 48th Ward Facebook Page at 7 p.m. tonight.

 

Volunteers Needed at the Lakeview Pantry

Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the city, visitors to Lakeview Pantry, Chicago's largest food pantry, including all of the Pantry's food programs (physical sites, Online Market and Home Delivery) have increased by over 80%. To help keep up with demand, and offer a safe space for volunteers to help sort and pack food, the Pantry will be setting up and managing a temporary satellite food distribution center on the main concourse at Wrigley Field. They are in need of more volunteers to meet demand. Visit lakeviewpantry.org/volunteer/ to learn more and sign up. Can't volunteer? Consider making a donation to help those in need.

 

Sincerely,


Heather A. Steans
State Senator, 7th Illinois Senate District

SNAP benefits – food assistance for families that need help – will increase in April and May due to COVID-19. If you are already receiving benefits, you do not need to make any changes in order to be eligible for this increase. If you are having trouble affording food and believe you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, you can create an account here or call 1-800-843-6154.

 

To see if you and your family would qualify, visit the Illinois Dept. of Human Services website here http://fscalc.dhs.illinois.gov/FSCalc/ to use their calculator.

 

Between April 8 and April 20, all eligible SNAP recipients will see their first additional funds if they are not currently receiving the maximum benefit. Additional funds are intended to help Illinoisans obtain food and support for their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The maximum SNAP benefit amounts will be implemented for April and May, but it is not known at this time whether these extended maximum payments will continue beyond May. 

 

Increased benefits will be automatically loaded onto SNAP recipients’ Link cards, and there is no need for anyone to re-apply, to visit an office, or to call. All new applications authorized in April will also receive the maximum allotment for their household size.

 

Update from Swedish Hospital

Swedish Hospital reports it will institute a drive-up COVID-19 testing site in an effort to keep the community safe by removing the need to come inside the hospital building. Swedish Hospital’s plan is to begin with 50 tests a day starting April 8, with those seeking tests requiring a referral from a Swedish Hospital doctor. The hospital is exploring plans to expand that prerequisite to be a referral from any doctor, depending on the success of these initial tests. As always, if you believe you are displaying COVID-19 systems, contact your doctor by phone to determine if you should be tested and how to go about doing so.

 

Sincerely,

 


Heather A. Steans
State Senator, 7th Illinois Senate District

COVID19 Updates

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