Moving toward more re-openings; More details on vaccinations

Illinois begins re-opening again

Illinois has finally begun taking steps forward again in getting back open for business. After coronavirus case numbers went up in the fall and then declined after the holidays, Illinois is again moving forward, albeit slowly.

Restrictions which had been in place since November were gradually lifted this week throughout the state. Some regions moved farther forward than others depending on factors like average positivity rates and hospital bed availability.

So what does all this mean for us in our area?

Our district is split between two regions. Livingston and Woodford counties are in Region 2 (which extends west to take in Peoria and the Quad Cities), while Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties are part of Region 6 (which also includes Champaign and Decatur).

Region 2 has now been moved forward into Tier 1 restrictions, which allows some indoor dining to re-open as well as other businesses. Indoor dining is now allowed for up to 25 guests at a time (or 25% capacity of the facility). Establishments must adhere to safety guidelines like having tables six feet apart and no congregating at bars. Social gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted once again, and safety guidelines must be followed, including wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

Region 6 shifted all the way into Phase 4 yesterday. In Phase 4, meetings and social events of up to 50 people or 50% of room capacity are permitted. Museums may re-open at 25% occupancy, gyms and fitness centers will have a capacity limit of no more than 50% occupancy and workplaces are still encouraged to continue employee health screenings. See the full breakdown of Phase 4 here.

If conditions continue to improve in Region 2, more of these restrictions can be lifted there as well. We all want to get our businesses back open and people back to work. We can help make that happen by protecting ourselves and each other and continuing to limit the spread of the illness.

More details about vaccination plans

We are receiving more details about the state’s plans for increasing vaccinations throughout Illinois. Priority was given to health care workers in Phase 1A, and now that more vaccines are available additional Illinoisans will be eligible for vaccinations in Phase 1B which starts on Monday.

This new phase of the vaccination process will be open to “frontline essential workers and residents age 65 and over to get vaccinated.” Those eligible as frontline essential workers include first responders, postal workers, grocery store employees and others who are “unable to work from home and/or they must work closely to others without being able to socially distance.”

The Department of Public Health (IDPH) will be opening more vaccination sites throughout the state, including in partnership with pharmacies and doctors’ offices in the coming weeks. More details will be forthcoming from (IDPH), and you can contact your county health department for the latest information in your local area.

Find up-to-date news from state agencies

To get all the latest news and information from every Illinois state agency, visit the state’s newsfeed website at https://www2.illinois.gov/news. There you will find the latest press releases from state agencies. If you want to receive updates only from the agencies you select, you can sign up to receive state agency news alerts by going to https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/pages/communicationsoptin.aspx and signing up for e-mail news updates.

Seeking help with IDES issues

Last week I joined with my new colleague Rep. Jackie Haas of Kankakee in reaching out to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to find out what is being done to protect the thousands of Illinoisans who have been affected by the ongoing unemployment fraud at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). As you know, many Illinoisans have had fraudulent unemployment applications filed in their name over the past several months.

IDES has been slow to respond and both I and Rep. Haas have been hearing from numerous constituents and local law enforcement agencies asking for help in fighting these fraudsters. This week we sent a letter to Attorney General Raoul trying to get answers to the questions we have been hearing from people in our area. This information will be helpful in protecting those who have been targeted by fraudulent actors.

Reaching out to the Governor

Since the House and Senate passed HB3653 (formerly HB163) in the closing hours of the 101st General Assembly on Wednesday many people have contacted me asking how to reach out to Governor Pritzker to encourage him to veto this bill which will make our state less safe. There are two different ways you can share your opinion with the Governor: visit https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/gov/contactus/Pages/VoiceAnOpinion.aspx to submit your opinion online, or call the Governor’s constituent affairs line at (217) 782-0244.

You can use either of these options to share your thoughts with the Governor on any piece of legislation or any issue affecting the state of Illinois. Response times have been slower than usual recently due to lower staffing levels because of the pandemic.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,509,829,038 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.1 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 $141 billion.

More news from around the state

Department of Public Health reports deaths in Iroquois, Livingston and Woodford counties

WJEZ community forum: State Representative Tom Bennett

First Illinois case of COVID-19 variant confirmed

Restaurants ready to resume indoor service

IHSA offers update on winter sports

Lincoln Presidential Library hosts art contest for Illinois students

Youth habitat enhancement projects receive funding through Illinois Schoolyard Habitat grant program

For additional helpful resources, click here.

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).