New mask recommendations; Unemployment fraud numbers

New recommendations call for wearing masks again

As coronavirus has started spreading once again in some parts of the state, the Illinois Department of Public Health has announced that it is asking Illinoisans to comply with new Centers for Disease Control recommendations that they resume wearing masks indoors in counties with higher coronavirus positivity rates. In our area, Iroquois County is the only one in the “high” category, but Ford and Vermilion are considered to have “substantial” transmission rates. Most of the counties with higher risk are south of our district.

Click here for the full statement from IDPH.

Local school districts to decide on masks

A few weeks ago I joined in co-sponsoring a House resolution calling for local control in school re-opening decisions. I am now pleased to report that our local school districts will be able to decide for themselves what their masking and other coronavirus prevention measures will be when schools re-open this fall.

Different parts of the state have different conditions, so it makes sense that these decisions should be made at the local level. Blanket, statewide one-size-fits-all requirements are not the right way to go. Under the guidance issued by the State Board of Education, masks will be required on school buses (just as they are required on all public transportation in Illinois) but local school boards will decide what other prevention methods they want to use.

Over half of Illinois’ population is now fully vaccinated, but the number of positive coronavirus tests has been increasing for a few weeks now. If you have not yet been vaccinated, you can find a list of vaccination locations here.

Illinois estimated at least $14.8 million in unemployment fraud

Last year as hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans filed unemployment claims due to the pandemic, there were also thousands of fraudulent claims filed in Illinois and in other states. Many of us continue to get scam calls, emails and and text messages claiming to be from the unemployment agency, and some Illinoisans even had fraudulent applications filed in their names. It has been a real mess.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), the state agency charged with overseeing the unemployment insurance system in the state, has reported that at least $14.8 million in fraudulent claims were paid out, and many experts believe this is only the tip of the iceberg. Nationally the U.S. Department of Labor has estimated more than $63 billion in improper benefits were paid out during the time of the pandemic.

One method of preventing fraud is to have applications be submitted in person, so that applicants can present documentation proving their identity and employment status. IDES staff is paid to perform this very task. But even though much of state government has been fully re-opened for months, IDES is refusing to re-open its offices for in-person visits. The result has been that Illinoisans applying for help must continue to navigate a frustrating online system with a poor record for timely processing, while fraudsters can continue to commit their crimes.

These offices need to be re-opened at once.

Three Bennett-sponsored bills become law

On Friday Governor Pritzker signed three bills I sponsored which passed this spring. House Bill 263 better protects the rights of adults who are wards of the state. Senate Bill 595 deals with the notification processes for mortgage foreclosure actions. Senate Bill 500 protects disabled Illinoisans from discrimination when they are in need of organ transplants.

Four other bills which I sponsored have passed both houses and are awaiting action by the governor. The governor has 60 days to decide whether to sign the bills, beginning with the date on which they were formally sent to him.

County fairs in full swing

It’s been great this summer to get back out to our county fairs, like the one we just completed in Livingston County. Thanks to all the volunteers, families and vendors who make this such a success every year! Despite the heat and the humidity, folks came out and enjoyed the many different events. I love the livestock auction and the chance to see the kids, families and auctioneers involved. It was so much fun and I was glad to help with these great programs for our youth. Well done, and thank you to all!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $3,766,721,754 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $4.5 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

Illinois’ share of opioid settlement could be $790 million

Blood shortage worsening in Illinois, donations needed urgently, Red Cross says

Illinois Department of Labor highlights steps to prevent violence on the job

A guided tour through IDOT’s bid-letting process

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.