Budget, vaccine lottery, education & more
June 2021 marked the final month of FY21 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021), the fiscal year that just ended in the State of Illinois. The FY21 fiscal year was marked by a sharp upswing in unusual and one-time federal aid payments to state governments, local governments, and individual taxpayers. In some cases, Illinois households responded to these federal payments by spending more money and declaring higher personal taxable income. These trends were associated with the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic.
This positive trend slowed in June 2021. Although State tax revenues remained healthy, the drop of $750 million in federal money led to an overall decline of $70 million in total State general funds receipts for the month.
Illinois continued to have the lowest credit rating of any of the 50 states, although the massive cash infusion described above led to a stabilization of Illinois’ credit rating. The widely followed Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings raised Illinois’ general obligation (GO) debt rating to BBB, two notches above junk-bond level, on Thursday, July 8. This was the first S&P Illinois GO upgrade since 1997
IDPH reports spreading variants in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has begun to track the spread of variant versions of the COVID-19 coronavirus, including the widely publicized Delta variant. Unvaccinated persons continue to be completely vulnerable to coronavirus, and vaccination rates are well below 50% in many Illinois communities. For example, the Cook County Department of Public Health has reported a vaccination rate in Dixmoor, Illinois of 12.6% as of Thursday, July 1.
Although these variants are spreading, a landmark was achieved on Monday, July 5, as Illinois reported zero coronavirus deaths on that day. This was the first 24-hour period with no Illinois COVID-19 deaths since March 2020, the month that marked the start of the pandemic’s spread in Illinois. Public health experts agreed that the successful administration of COVID-19 vaccines to millions of Illinoisans had played a decisive role in reducing the danger created by the virus. A COVID-19 vaccine lottery with the names of vaccinated Illinoisans began offering prizes this week. The first drawing was held on Thursday, July 8.
Businesses, homeowners deal with impact of tornado event in Naperville and neighboring communities. A severe storm unleashed an EF3 tornado in southern DuPage County on June 20 that damaged more than 100 homes. Widespread power outages were associated with this tornado and the storm weather that came with it. The tornado produced winds of up to 165 miles per hour. The State of Illinois has asked the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to declare the storm-affected region to be a disaster area. A disaster declaration would create a loan window for affected property owners and operators to apply for low-interest, long-term financing.
House Republicans call for updated guidance; new CDC guidelines strongly encourage in-person learning. With the beginning of the school year rapidly approaching, State Rep. Seth Lewis and members of the House Republican Caucus echoed calls from school leaders pleading for updated guidance from the State on fall school reopening. In a July 8 letter to Governor J.B. Pritzker, Lewis and his colleagues urged the administration to move quickly to allow schools time to implement new procedures to ensure a safe and healthy school year for students.
“I’ve heard from a number of my local superintendents and school leaders about this issue. We’re all thankful that this school year will look so much different than the last, but with the huge strides made toward fighting the virus in the last year comes a very real and urgent need to update and clarify guidance to schools so that they can prepare,” said Lewis.
With the new school year starting in 60 days or less for the vast majority of the state’s students, teachers and staff, time is of the essence for schools to make final plans and implement them for in person learning.
On Friday, July 9, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for going back to school this fall. The new guidelines will strongly encourage all students to attend classes in person, unless the student has health conditions that include a learning-from-home individual education program. As with other public settings, vaccinated educators and students will not have to wear facemasks indoors. Coronavirus vaccines have not yet been approved for administration to children under the age of 12.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the agency with oversight over Illinois’ locally-controlled school districts, has previously signaled its willingness to follow CDC guidelines, and these advisories are expected to be put into common practice as Illinois schools prepare for the fall 2021 term. Facemasks may continue to be common sights on school buses, in school corridors where older children are in contact with younger children, in school lunchrooms and other places where pupils gather, and in the classrooms where younger children learn.
Taxpayer-funded Medicaid program expanded. Illinois’ Medicaid expansion, signed into law by the Governor, adds many forms of health care services to the benefits available to Medicaid recipients. Under federal law, the costs of Medicaid are shared between the federal government and the states. The 50 states are given some freedom to decide what services will be covered, with low-tax states typically offering fewer Medicaid services and high-tax states offering more services.
Services included in the new Illinois law include community mental health services, community behavioral health clinics, additional support for veterans and their support care providers, tobacco cessation programs, and opioid detoxification inpatient treatment. Additional reimbursements are provided to supportive living facilities that accept Medicaid patients. The Illinois General Assembly enacted the Medicaid expansion legislation in the spring 2021 session as SB 2294. It became law on Tuesday, July 6.
Three law enforcement officers wounded in incident. The officers, whose names have not been released, included two federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agents and one Chicago police officer. Their injuries were non-life-threatening. The shooting occurred in the far southwest side of Chicago adjacent to Interstate 57 on Wednesday, July 7. A person of interest was detailed and, on Thursday, July 8, charges were filed against the suspect. Authorities did not disclose details about the undercover operation that the affected law enforcement officers had been engaged in when the incident occurred.
Drivers’ license expiration dates extended. Illinois standard motor vehicle drivers’ licenses expire every four years and must be renewed. Since March 2020, drivers with expiring or expired standard drivers’ licenses have been allowed by the Illinois Secretary of State (ILSOS) to keep using their old licenses. Their expired licenses have remained temporarily valid for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.
This period of temporary validity has been extended until January 1, 2022. This will prevent a crush of applicants crowding into Illinois Driver Services offices. Illinoisans with expired drivers’ licenses are being urged to renew their licenses before the extended deadline.
Illinois residents who renew their drivers’ licenses, or who get new drivers’ licenses, are reminded that they will need to present additional documentation in order to enable ILSOS to issue a drivers’ license that is compliant with the terms of the federal REAL ID Act. Additional required information will include a passport or birth certificate, an official document with a Social Security number, two official documents (such as utility bills) with the applicant’s name and address, and a document with the applicant’s signature. The federal government will begin enforcing REAL ID identification requirements at commercial airports, federal buildings, military bases, etc., on May 3, 2023.