Concerns about CARES funds; New IDES Director

Concerns raised about distribution of CARES Act funds

Emergency relief funds from the federal CARES Act will soon be distributed in Illinois, but the process for doing so has drawn criticism. The community-grant funds are intended to help cities and towns of under 500,000 population to recover from the pandemic.

The new standards; which were proposed by the administration as emergency administrative rules with no public comment; put additional restrictions on how local governments may spend their share of the CARES Act funds. The federal legislation gave local governments the discretion to use the funds to save businesses which are the lifeblood of the community, saving key sectors of the economy and the jobs they support. But rather than letting local leaders consider each community’s unique conditions, the proposed state rules put in place a one-size-fits all mandate governing the spending of the funds.

Municipal leaders and business advocates spoke out last week about these new restrictive rules which came from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and affect mostly downstate communities. The agency needs to reconsider these restrictive rules and allow these funds to flow to localities the way the original federal legislation intended.

New director appointed to head IDES

Kristin Richards has been named the new director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). She replaces Tom Chan, who had been the agency’s acting director for the past four months. Director Richards previously served as Chief of Staff for Senate President Don Harmon.

She comes to IDES at a difficult time for the agency. Since March 1, IDES has processed 1,361,036 new unemployment claims, nearly 11.5 times as many as in the same period a year ago. IDES has been the subject of troubling shortcomings in its ability to meet the sudden increase in applications due to the pandemic and the shutdown, as long wait times and a serious data breach have been in the headlines in the past few months.

IDES has reportedly made adjustments to handle the increased demand, including adding a new call center, extended the hours of its existing call center and increased its phone system capacity. I extend my best wishes to Director Richards for success in addressing these problems during this challenging time.

Join us for a discussion of law enforcement during the pandemic

The coronavirus outbreak has presented law enforcement agencies with new and unique challenges which they have been working hard to address since the spring. Join me Thursday evening at 5 p.m. for a Facebook live discussion of issues facing law enforcement. My guests will be Livingston County Sheriff Tony Childress and Lieutenant Colonel Margaret McGreal of the Illinois State Police Operational Services Command. We will talk about the coronavirus outbreak, police reform and FOID card processing, just to name a few issues. Visit my Facebook page for more information.

COGFA report shows a partial economic recovery

Illinois’ economy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns, but a new report from the non-partisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows that the state’s economy is starting to bounce back.

With so much economic activity sidelined during the pandemic, Illinois’ general funds revenues fell by $1.135 billion since March. But June numbers began to rebound as more Illinoisans got back to work, with income tax collections up by $173 million. However, sales tax receipts were down by $83 million compared to June 2019, a 10.5% decline. More than 600,000 jobs were lost, putting the state’s unemployment rate at 15.2%, which was an improvement from its peak of 17.2% in April. Though there are some encouraging signs out there, it is clear that the state is in for a long, difficult recovery.

More news from around the state

The latest update from the Department of Public Health

Illinois State Police warn of coronavirus text scam

Paycheck Protection Program extended to August 8.

After historic responses to COVID-19 and civil unrest, National Guard winds down deployment

Expired driver’s license, vehicle registration now extended to November 1

Dept. on Aging Launches Campaign to Protect Seniors and Adults with Disabilities from Abuse

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For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at dph.sick@illinois.gov.

My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).