Adjusted coronavirus metrics; Federal funding for Illinois schools

Illinois makes adjustments to coronavirus metrics, regions

Some states have seen large increases in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, and numbers have gone up in Illinois too, though not by as much. This week the governor made some adjustments to Illinois’ re-opening plan to better reflect local conditions.

One of my objections to the Restore Illinois plan was that it split the state into only four large regions. I supported a plan which called for smaller regions so that a county with few cases might not be held back because it is tied to a far-away county with more cases. This week, the governor adjusted the plan to incorporate this idea: there will now be 11 smaller regions instead of four large ones. Woodford and Livingston Counties remain together in a region, but are no longer lumped in with places like Rockford. Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion Counties are in another region, but it no longer includes such distant cities as Springfield and Quincy.

As other states have paused or rolled back their re-openings, Illinois has not had to do so. The governor announced this week the criteria which might cause a region to move back. They include large increases in positivity rates, such as three consecutive days averaging at least an 8% positivity rate (our area has been between 2% and 4%), or a sustained increase in hospital admissions for coronavirus.

The plan laid out a gradual system of roll-backs should there be a large increase in cases in a certain area. For example, rather than immediately shutting down all indoor dining, we would first try a series of intermediate steps to keep businesses open as much as possible.

While I like the more regionalized approach to this new plan, I continue to object to government-by-executive-order, and would like to see the legislature more involved in making these decisions. Last week I joined in co-sponsoring legislation which would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature to extend any kind of emergency declaration or action beyond the 30 days spelled out in state law.

All of this is a good reminder that the virus is still out there and still spreading, so please keep taking those safety precautions we have become so familiar with during this outbreak.

Federal CARES Act funds flow to Illinois schools

A portion of the federal CARES Act for coronavirus relief was set aside for schools as part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. In Illinois, $108.5 million of these funds will be going to school districts to meet the continuing challenges of education amidst the pandemic.

When the State Board of Education released its guidance to schools for re-opening in the fall, I reached out to each of the superintendents in our district to find out what their concerns were. One of the most common responses concerned finding the funds to make all the adjustments that will be necessary in this new environment. With this week’s announcement, $10 million will be available for early childhood programs, $40 million for purchases of digital devices and Wi-Fi hotspots to ease continued remote learning, $7.5 million goes for training of K-12 teachers and parents while another $2.5 million will be available for social-emotional learning and student well-being during this difficult time.

The remaining funds will go to Illinois colleges and universities for such purposes as access to technology and addressing the many other educational needs of college students trying to complete their studies under these unprecedented conditions.

The release of these federal funds comes on top of the announcement in May that $512 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund would be made available to help districts adapt to the new necessities of conducting classes during the outbreak.

Scam alert: watch out for fraudulent IDES debit cards in the mail

I have been getting calls from area residents who have received debit cards from the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s (IDES) unemployment system – cards which they did not apply for. This has been happening in other parts of the state as well, and investigations have turned up warnings that these unsolicited debit cards may be part of an identity theft scam.

If you receive an unemployment benefits debit card which you did not apply you should report it to IDES. Do not give out any personal information in response to the receipt of an unsolicited debit card. One village in the Chicago suburbs has even recommended contacting the police department and filing a report.

Still time to fill out the Census

Census figures determine the allocation of millions of dollars in state and federal aid every year, for everything from schools and hospitals to highways and public safety. It is essential that we get an accurate count. If our area is undercounted it will result in funds that should have come here going someplace else instead.

As of Monday, Ford County had a response rate of 69.1%. Iroquois was at 63.9% and Livingston at 71.0%. So far only 63.0% of Vermilion County residents have responded, and Woodford currently leads our five counties with a 75.7% response rate. The state as a whole has a response rate of 66.8%. If you have not yet filled out your Census questionnaire, go to my2020census.gov right now to begin the process. Make sure that we all count!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,292,535,195 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $5.8 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $137 billion.

More news from around the state

The latest update from the Department of Public Health

State’s retailers, restaurants ‘still struggling’

Lawsuit aims to lift IHSA’s pandemic-related restrictions on high school sports

Applications now open for Illinois Historic Sites Field Trip Grant

Department of Agriculture to offer free recycling program for agrichemical containers

For additional helpful resources, click here.

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).