Lawmakers say increased funding is key to reopening economy

3097 macoupin county health department 62626 wke 1SPRINGFIELD - To help local health departments sustain their COVID-19 response efforts in addition to their basic functions, State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and other Downstate Senate Democrats are pushing to double state funding to support local health departments for the coming year.

Manar’s plan would increase funding for Local Health Protection Grants to $36 million in the state’s next budget, which Manar says is key to opening up the economy.

“Our state’s response and recovery will require 97 fully staffed local health departments to continue to do their part each and every day to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are the first line of response and are the foundation to reopening the economy,” Manar said.

Manar says mounting fiscal uncertainty and looming cuts to county and municipal budgets could impede local public health efforts and our state’s progress as a whole. “This additional funding will ensure they have what they need to do their jobs effectively through the end of our recovery period,” he added.

As a lead budget negotiator and chair of one of the Senate’s two appropriations committees, Manar has been vocal about the need to reinforce support for local health departments.

“As we continue to seek solutions to the unique problems the coronavirus pandemic has presented to our state, we have to adopt an approach that continues to breathe life into the organizations that allow our downstate communities to thrive,” said State Senator Dave Koehler, a Democrat representing parts of Tazewell, Peoria, and Fulton Counties. "Downstate is built on the back of entities like small businesses and local health departments, so we need to give them every chance to succeed going forward.”

"Our economic response to COVID-19 needs to match the scale of the crisis," said State Senator Christopher Belt (D-Centreville). "We must be ready to deal with the financial fallout after this emergency, and as our local governments prepare for cuts, we have to prioritize funding for our health departments to ensure our communities can bounce back."

“This is a budget process unlike any we’ve ever faced before,” said State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “Our local health departments are the first line of defense against an infectious disease, and we will fight to ensure there is adequate funding available to them to cover their programs.”

“By increasing funding for local health departments, Illinois is reaffirming its commitment to the well-being of its residents,” said State Senator Rachelle Crowe, a Democrat representing parts of Madison, Jersey, and St. Clair Counties. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring health departments can operate is critical to public safety.”

Local Health Protection Grants provide funding to certified local health departments to ensure that basic levels of protection for Illinois residents are maintained at the community level for infectious diseases, food protection, safety of potable water supply and private sewage disposal. Funds are distributed by the Illinois Department of Public Health based on a formula that includes population and poverty levels within each jurisdiction.

“This pandemic has demanded an unprecedented response beyond the operating capacities of most local health departments and the budgetary capacities of most county boards, so departments are already forced to spread themselves thin,” Manar said. “As local governments begin to grapple with balanced budgets, it is critical that local health departments remain stable and are able to respond to the spread of COVID-19 when needed. This is key to reopening the economy.”

imageDECATUR — Following Gov. JB Pritzker's decision on Monday to send 300 testing kits to Fair Havens Senior Living Facility to cope with its COVID-19 outbreak, which has already claimed nine lives, State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), State Senator Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet), Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, State Representative Sue Scherer (D-Decatur), State Representative Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur), and Macon County Board Chairman Kevin Greenfield issued the following joint statement:

"The situation at Fair Havens Senior Living is dire, and the decisive action by the Pritzker administration and Illinois Department of Public Health will save lives. These 300 tests will allow county health officials to identify and isolate carriers, which is the first step in halting the spread of COVID-19 throughout the facility and Decatur community.

“We thank Gov. Pritzker and IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike for responding to our request, stepping up to address this urgent need for assistance, and protecting the health and safety of Fair Havens’ residents, its staff and their families.”

According to Macon County Health Department officials, there are 36 COVID-19 cases linked to Fair Havens Senior Living Facility, including nine deaths.

FOID CCL graphic

Last week, the Illinois State Police issued new emergency rules to help firearm owners with expired Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) cards and Conceal Carry Licenses during the COVID-19. The rules ease renewal requirements and address the FOID renewal backlog.

What is the impact of the state's disaster declaration on my FOID or CCL expiration date?
Firearms Owners Identification (FOID) card holders and Concealed Carry License (CCL) holders who submit their renewal application will remain valid during the duration of the state’s disaster proclamation and for a period of 12 months following the termination of the disaster, even if their renewal application is/was not submitted prior to expiration.

CCL holders will need to submit proof of their three-hour renewal training within 12 months following the termination of the state's disaster proclamation in order to maintain the validity of their CCL.

What if my FOID Card is revoked during the COVID-19 disaster period?
The Illinois State Police will continue to enforce both FOID card and CCL prohibitors. FOID/CCL card holders who receive revocation notices shall return their FOID/CCL and Firearm Disposition Record form to the Illinois State Police.

I am a CCL holder. How can I complete my three-hour training?
Renewal applications will be accepted without proof that renewal training is completed. CCL licensees will need to submit proof of their three-hour renewal training within 12 months following the termination of the state's disaster proclamation in order to maintain the validity of their CCL license

My FOID card expired last week and I just sent in my renewal. How do these rules affect me?
FOID cards will remain valid during the duration of the state’s disaster proclamation and for a period of 12 months following the termination of the disaster even if a renewal application is/was not submitted prior to expiration.

My FOID card shows that it is expired, but these rules mean that it is still valid. I went to my local dealer and they refused to sell me ammunition and/or a firearm. Why?
Dealers are required to check your FOID card before selling ammunition and/or a firearm. A dealer may decline to sell ammunition and/or a firearm if they so choose. Policies on this issue may vary from store to store. Federal regulations pertaining to the purchase of ammunition and firearms have not changed.

My Illinois DL or ID card is expired, may I apply for a FOID/CCL?
Yes, per the Governor’s Executive Order, expired DL or ID cards will be treated as valid for the duration of the disaster proclamation and 30 days thereafter.

If my FOID card expired in February, and I just sent in my FOID card renewal application, and the disaster order terminates in August, is my FOID card valid through August of 2021?

I submitted a FOID/CCL application last month. Are new FOID and CCL applications still being processed or only applications for renewal?
New applications are being processed, but you should expect delays. Like all entities, our normal operations have been impacted by COVID 19.

My FOID/CCL expired three months ago, and I haven’t submitted a renewal application as of today. Can I submit my late FOID/CCL renewal application now in order for my expired FOID/CCL to remain valid, or was there a specific time frame I needed to do this in, in order for it to remain valid?
Your expired FOID/CCL will remain valid for the duration of the disaster proclamation plus 12 months. If you fail to file a renewal application during that time frame, your FOID/CCL license will expire once the 12-month period has elapsed.

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Workers at traditional businesses

On April 6, the Illinois Department of Employment Security began disbursing Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) funds, which was the first week that payments were allowed by the federal government. FPUC provides an additional $600 each week in 100% federally funded benefits to anyone entitled to regular state unemployment benefits. FPUC benefits are available for weeks beginning on or after March 29, 2020 and continuing through the week ending July 25, 2020. Pursuant to federal legislation, this $600 will not be retroactively applied to unemployment claims that arose prior to March 29, 2020.

Those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits of up to 26 weeks are now eligible for an additional 13 weeks’ worth of 100% federally funded benefits called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). IDES received guidelines from the U.S. Department of Labor on April 10 and expects to have the program fully implemented the week of April 20.

Additionally, to speed up the process for unemployment claimants, IDES filed an emergency rule which suspended the requirement that a claimant register with Illinois Job Link if their unemployment is due to a temporary lay-off resulting from a temporary closing attributable to the novel coronavirus.

IDES has also waived the one-week waiting period. Before collection of the regular 26 weeks of unemployment benefits begins, a claimant normally experiences a waiting week during which they do not receive benefits. Through an executive order from Governor Pritzker, the waiting week for claimants was entirely waived. This change allows a claimant to receive two weeks of benefits, rather than the usual one week of benefits as their first payment.

Self-employed & gig workers, freelancers, and independent contractors

Beginning May 11, the federal government will allow self-employed workers, freelancers, and independent contractors to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). This program provides a total of 39 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals not typically eligible for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors and self-proprietors, who have become unemployed as a direct result of COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has advised that those seeking PUA benefits should file a regular unemployment benefits claim now. While they will not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits, their information will kept on file and processed when the PUA program goes into effect on May 11.

PUA claims will be backdated to the individual’s first week of unemployment, but no earlier than February 2, 2020. Benefits will continue for as long as the individual remains unemployed as a result of COVID-19, but no later than the week ending December 26, 2020. While a program of this magnitude might normally take up to a year to design and implement, IDES plans to get this program online by the week of May 11.

IMPORTANT: Unfortunately, rules implemented by the Federal Department of Labor have made it more difficult than Congress initially intended for gig workers to get benefits. New Labor Department guidance says unemployment benefits apply to gig workers only if they are “forced to suspend operations.” This means, for example, that if Uber drivers are still able to turn on their Uber Driver apps and take trips, despite significantly diminished earning potential due to the shrinking demand for Uber rides, they could be ineligible to receive benefits. The rules being implemented by the Federal Department of Labor are complicating the expansion. 

Expanding IDES’ capacity

Through the five weeks from March 1 to April 4, Illinois received more than 500,000 unemployment claims. To put that in perspective, the total number of initial claims for the entirety of 2019 was 489,831. To accommodate the tens of thousands of unemployment claims filed each day over the past month, IDES has taken a number of steps to expand the operating capacity of its call center and website:

  • Overhauling the IDES website infrastructure - IDES worked with the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology to move its website to an entirely new hardware infrastructure with more capacity to handle increased demand. IDES also expedited the process for new users to register and submit a claim, cutting red tape in the validation process. Since these updates, loading times for people using the website are now averaging below one second, and server and mainframe utilization has remained below 50%.
  • Expanding the IDES unemployment call center  - IDES updated its phone system to increase capacity by 40%, reducing wait times and the number of claimants receiving a busy signal. The daily call center hours have been extended to respond to those waiting in the queue after closure. Additionally, IDES is in the process of establishing an outside call center with an additional 200 agents who will assist in the application and certification process. IDES has also reenlisted recently retired staffers with unemployment benefit insurance experience to work on contract to assist the department during this crisis. These retirees will be provided with laptops to allow them to assist from home.
  • Building private partnerships - The administration has sought out partnerships with technology and consulting companies who have stepped up to provide their expertise during this critical time. This includes an exciting partnership with Google AI, Quantiphi, and Carasoft to launch a 24/7 web bot on the IDES website to immediately provide answers to frequently asked questions to people who choose to use the feature. IDES is also working closely with companies like Accenture, IBM, and Deloitte to continue to expand capacity in its existing systems and implement new programs.

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