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

As the Census bureau takes its 2020 count, the questionnaire has never been easier to complete — whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker.

 

The information you provide will impact your community every day — from influencing highway planning to determining how money is allocated to public school programs.

 

By now, most of you should have received mail from the U.S. Census Bureau. The letter contains your household’s Census ID number to be used when filling out the census online at my2020census.gov.

 

Simply go to the website, click the “start questionnaire” button on the right side of the screen and answer the questions. It should take no more than 10 minutes.

 

Would you rather respond by phone or mail? No problem — a paper questionnaire will be sent to your home soon if you have yet to respond online.

 

The census determines congressional representation, helps determine how federal funds flow into states and provides information that will impact your community for the next decade.

 

Please take time to help shape the future. Your response matters.

 

If you have any questions, please reach out to my office at (773) 769-1717.

 

Sincerely,


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

COVID19 Updates

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