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Women for Change to host the Big Event on Saturday in Carbondale

CARBONDALE — Women for Change/Unity in the Community will host its fourth annual Big Event on Saturday at the Women For Change Red Hen Garden.

Because of COVID-19, the Big Event’s traditional Unity March will be a Unity Motorcade Parade. Vehicles will line up from 10 to 10:30 a.m. at Rock Hill Baptist Missionary Baptist Church, on the corner of East Monroe and South Marion streets. The parade starts on South Marion Street north to Jackson Street, west to North Washington Street, then north to East Larch Street, stopping at the garden, which is 511 E. Larch St.

Those attending are asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

The event at Red Hen Garden will begin at 11 a.m. The theme and focus of this year’s Big Event is “The Garden.” This year’s program will focus on how the Garden is a vital food resource to keep the community safe and healthy. The group’s goals is to educate the younger generation to become more “garden friendly” and to remind everyone that garden produce is like medicine to the body.

Presentations will include how produce and herbs boost the immune system, produce to help control chronic diseases, grilling vegetables, and Surfing into Summer, a five-week Food Program at Bethel AME to feed children 18 and younger.

The celebration will include samples from the garden, music and giveaways. In addition, Cristaudo’s, part of the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen, will distribute 50 free meals to residents of Northeast Carbondale.

“I think this is an awesome opportunity for our community,” said Susan Harper, chair of the Big Event.

"This will allow everyone to see what we are doing for the community,” said Ginger Rye, president of Women for Change.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Carbondale’s Women for Change will host its fourth annual Big Event at the Red Hen Garden on East Larch Street on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. starting with a unity motorcade ending at the garden where programs will educate attendees on the benefit of the garden in eating and living healthy.

Red Hen Garden is a true community garden. Deborah Woods and Kate Heist, both of Women for Change, coordinate work in the garden with the help of Food Autonomy Group and volunteers from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This year’s summer crops have included several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, onions, yellow squash and zucchini, cucumbers, greens (collard, mustard and turnip), kale, watermelon, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and green beans, along with a variety of herbs, flowers, gourds and other plants.

The garden also has a teepee that is used for growing gourds that will be turned into birdhouses by children next year. Children can go inside the teepee.

Woods remembers passing a lot of fruit trees while walking through Northeast Carbondale to Attucks School. That source of fresh fruit has disappeared. The group will plant a plum tree and two pear trees this year in the garden.

“The garden is open to the public and provides free produce for the community. As Kate and I harvest the produce, we put it on the stand. It is available for anyone to take,” Woods said.

“it’s been so much fun,” Heist said. “It’s the only thing keeping me sane. We will accept any and all volunteers who want to remain sane.”

“We pray God will continue to bless us in doing his will,” Harper said.

“We are hoping people show up and really come together under the banner of unity,” Rye said.

For more information about The Big Event 2020 and The Unity Motorcade, contact Women for Change at womenforchange8@gmail.com or WomenForChange-Carbondale on Facebook.

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Govt-and-politics
alert top story
Pritzker instructs Illinois agency leaders to prepare for cuts of 5-10%

SPRINGFIELD — State agency heads are preparing to cut 5% of their budgets in the current fiscal year and 10% next fiscal year should the federal government fail to provide aid to state and local governments, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday.

The governor made the announcement at a Chicago restaurant during a news conference called to announce another $245 million in grants aimed at giving a boost to businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest.

That includes $220 million in Business Interruption Grants for businesses suffering losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

That was a more than $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law in March. Partisan disputes in Washington, D.C., however, have stalled follow-up legislation, which several U.S. governors, including Pritzker, have said needs to focus on aid to states.

“Let me repeat that every state in the nation has suffered, every municipality in the nation has suffered from the fiscal effects of COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “However, until Republicans in Washington decide otherwise, middle class, working class and poor families across our state and across the nation will likely suffer from cuts to public safety, education, human services and environmental safety, and the potential layoffs will make the economic recession worse.”

He called the potential for cuts a “nightmare scenario” for entities such as schools, hospitals, universities, law enforcement, health care workers and firefighters.

“This is about support for local and state governments across the nation,” he said. “This is about support for our nation's economic recovery that only the federal government can provide, just like it did for the corporate sector already.”

While the state has already distributed more than $49 million in federal BIG funding, applications for the next $220 million will open Thursday. Application information for the second round of funds can be found on the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website at Illinois.gov/dceo.

Grants will range from $5,000 to $150,000 to each business based on revenue losses incurred due to the ongoing pandemic and the size of the business.

Businesses and nonprofit entities with $20 million or less in revenue last year will be eligible, with a focus on businesses located downstate or in disproportionately impacted areas, according to the governor’s office. At least $100 million will go to businesses in downstate and rural areas of Illinois.

Of the funding, $60 million will go to “heavily distressed industries” such as movie theatres, performing arts venues, concert venues, indoor recreation, amusement parks, event spaces located at banquet halls and hotels, and more.

Disproportionately Impacted Areas will see $70 million set aside. Those are defined by zip codes identified by the General Assembly for communities seeing the most economic distress due to the pandemic. Another $5 million will be set aside for businesses facing livestock production disruptions.

Another $25 million made available through the Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan will go toward helping businesses in communities damaged during civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May. Projects may range in size from $1,000 to $200,000, based on the extent of the damages.

Applications will be available “in the coming weeks,” according to the governor’s office.

Other COVID-19 news

Pritzker also signified he is not willing to make a “political decision” to allow high school football to resume.

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The graph shows the number of COVID-19 tests completed each day (blue), next to the number of positive cases those tests yield (red), according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

“This isn't a political decision. I know that there are people who would like me simply to make a political decision to allow people to endanger themselves,” he said, noting that surrounding states allowing football to be played have higher positivity rates than Illinois.

“If they've decided to endanger children and families in those states by allowing certain contact sports to take place, that's their decision. That's not something that's good for the families, the children of Illinois,” he added.

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The graph shows the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases reported each day by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The news conference came as the state reported another 1,466 new confirmed cases of the virus among 39,031 test results reported over the previous 24 hours. The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported another 20 deaths in people from their 60s to their 90s.

The rolling seven-day statewide positivity rate remained at 3.6% for the second straight Tuesday.

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The graph shows the rolling, 7-day positivity rate for tests completed starting on June 1. Illinois Department of Public Health data was used to calculate the averages.

At the end of Monday, 1,584 people in Illinois were reported hospitalized with COVID-19, including 373 in intensive care units and 144 on ventilators. Those were all slightly above pandemic lows and significant increases from the previous day.

The state’s two regions that have seen increased mitigations due to high positivity rates both saw their numbers drop, according to the latest data from IDPH. Region 7, which includes Will and Kankakee counties, has a 6.9% rate as of Sept. 12. That’s still slightly above the 6.5% needed to remove mitigations such as closure of indoor dining, but it’s a decrease of three-tenths of a percent from the day prior.

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The graph depicts the COVID-19 positivity rate of test results reported over a 24-hour period as reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In the Metro East region, known as Region 4 in the reopening plan, the rate decreased two-tenths of a percentage point to 9.2% as of Sept. 12. That region was still far away from mitigations being lifted despite the progress.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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National
AP
Pelosi: No break until COVID-19 deal made

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of COVID-19 relief, a move that came as Democrats from swing districts signaled discontent with a standoff that could force them to face voters without delivering more aid.

“We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people," Pelosi said on CNBC.

Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a morning conference call that “we have to stay here until we have a bill.” That’s according to a Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity but authorized to quote her remarks.

The move highlighted the extent to which coronavirus legislation has settled into a kind of suspended animation in the final legislative weeks before the November election. Both parties insist they want action, keeping the idea of new relief alive, but negotiations between Democrats and the White House remain frozen, with both sides entrenched in their positions.

Pelosi's comments came as moderate Democrats, many from areas won by President Donald Trump four years ago, signed on to a $1.5 trillion rescue package endorsed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of about 50 lawmakers who seek common solutions to issues.

The plan contains many elements of COVID rescue packages devised by both House Democrats and Republicans controlling the Senate, including aid to schools, funding for state and local governments, and renewal of lapsed COVID-related jobless benefits.

The price tag is significantly less than the $2.2 trillion figure cited by Pelosi but it's also well above an approximately $650 billion Senate GOP plan that failed last week due to Democratic opposition.

Talks between Pelosi and the Trump administration broke down last month and there had been little optimism they would rekindle before Election Day. And last week, Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package.

Pelosi has maintained a hard line in negotiations and has been at odds with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She orchestrated passage of a $3.4 trillion COVID rescue package back in May, but the effort was immediately dismissed by Senate Republicans and the Trump administration.

Tuesday's remarks, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, don't mean that the speaker is adopting a more flexible position. She instead seems to be signaling continued determination to press ahead and won't adjourn the House without an agreement with the administration.

Success is by no means guaranteed, and many people on Capitol Hill remain skeptical that an agreement between the White House and Democrats is likely before the election.

“My sense is the clock is running out," said Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “I don't see any intention or desire on the part of the Democrat leadership at the moment — regardless of what their members are saying — to cooperate and to work together on a solution. I think they feel like they've got the issue and they want to try and ride it in November."

As the leadership talks collapsed, some moderate Democrats have been agitating for greater compromise. Their talks with pragmatic Republicans yielded common ground but the group does not have much of a track record of broadening their efforts and producing results.

“This is how Congress is supposed to work,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a member of the Problem Solvers group, describing a lengthy, bipartisan negotiation that produced a consensus. The group hopes the package illustrates the kinds of compromises that top Democrats and the administration would have to make to get a measure passed and signed into law.

“I hope our leadership is paying attention. I hope our leadership is looking hard at what we're doing," said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. “We consider this the basic tenets of any package that comes out of the House and the Senate and is signed by the president of the United States."

No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the moderates had developed “useful ideas, important ideas" but said the proposal did not do enough to address the ongoing needs of helping the economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, state and local officials around the U.S. are rolling back social-distancing rules again after an abortive effort over the summer, allowing bars, restaurants and gyms to open. Fans are gathering mask-free at football games. President Donald Trump is holding crowded indoor rallies.

While some Americans may see such things as a welcome step closer to normal, public health experts warn the U.S. is setting itself up for failure — again.

“Folks are becoming very cavalier about the pandemic," said Mark Rupp, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Nebraska's governor ended nearly all of his state’s restrictions on Monday, even with new cases of the coronavirus on the rise.

“I think it is setting us up for further transmission and more people getting ill and, unfortunately, more people dying," Rupp said.

The virus is blamed for more than 6.5 million confirmed infections and 195,000 deaths in the U.S., by far the highest totals of any country, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

While case numbers have fallen from a peak average of 67,000 new infections per day in late July to about 36,000 now, the numbers remain staggeringly high. Deaths are running at about 750 a day, down from a peak of over 2,200 in late April.


Govt-and-politics
alert top story
Madigan probe paused pending US Attorney’s guidance

SPRINGFIELD — The Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on a special legislative committee investigating House Speaker Michael Madigan both said Tuesday that they are awaiting further guidance from federal prosecutors about how far they can go in questioning witnesses and calling for documents.

The Special Investigating Committee held its first meeting last week, during which members voted unanimously not to take any substantive action that could interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. They also authorized Chairman Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, to contact the U.S. Attorney’s office for guidance on how to avoid interference.

Also during that meeting, Republicans unveiled a list of potential witnesses they would like to give testimony and produce various documents.

Madigan was implicated in July in an alleged bribery scheme involving Commonwealth Edison, the state’s largest electric utility, when officials from the company entered what’s known as a “deferred prosecution agreement.” In that agreement, company officials admitted that, over a period of years, they handed out jobs and contracts to close Madigan associates in an effort to curry his favor for legislation that benefitted the company.

Madigan has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. But Republicans in the Illinois House have invoked a House rule to commence a committee to explore punitive actions against the long-serving speaker, up to and including expulsion from the House.

House Republicans have accused Madigan of a of non-criminal charge under House rules – “conduct unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of public trust,” which is elaborated as “engaging in a bribery scheme, an extortion scheme, conspiracy to violate federal and state laws, among other misconduct and misuse of office.”

The six-member investigative committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but a majority vote is required to approve such a charge, which means at least one Democrat would have to vote with Republicans in order to send the charge to a separate disciplinary committee.

In separate emails Tuesday, both Welch and Demmer confirmed that they had spoken by phone with John Lausch Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and that Lausch had given them clearance to call witnesses.

But that’s where their interpretations of the conversation start to differ.

“We were advised that the US Attorney’s Office does not object to the work of the Committee, nor do they object to the calling of any of the names on our initial witness list, including Speaker Madigan,” Demmer said in a statement. “We appreciate their attention to this very serious matter, and we look forward to the committee meeting next week to continue its work on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

Welch, by contrast, gave a very different summary of the conversation.

“The US Attorney made it clear we could seek testimony from whoever we choose; however, they requested we refrain from seeking any materials or testimony related to the (deferred prosecution agreement) that is still confidential or anything in the possession of the federal government,” Welch said. “In other words, we can call witnesses, but we can’t really ask them any questions.”

The deferred prosecution agreement actually mentions very few specific names. Even Madigan is described only as “Public Official A,” although it also describes that person as the Speaker of the House and the longest-serving member of the House. Other people are identified with such descriptors as “Individual A,” “Associate 1,” “Associate 2” and “CEO-1.”

But in a subpoena served on Madigan’s office in July, several individuals are identified by name, including a number of former ComEd lobbyists and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. Many of them also appear on the Republicans’ proposed witness list.

The competing interests between federal prosecutors and the legislative committee has the potential to set up a rare kind of conflict between the federal and state government, pitting the authority of the Justice Department to prosecute federal crimes against the authority of a state legislative body to enforce its own rules and police its own membership.

Both Welch and Demmer said they are now waiting for Lausch to provide them with a written summary of the conversation, something they expect to receive as early as this week.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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Education
breaking top story
Murphysboro
In-person instruction paused for one week for Murphysboro eighth graders

MURPHYSBORO — On Monday, Murphysboro Middle School Principal Jeff Keener sent a letter to parents of middle school students saying a second eighth grade teacher and one eighth grade student had tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, in-person instruction for eighth graders was paused this week. The district plans to resume in-person instruction for eighth graders on Sept. 22.

Jackson County Health Department believes the three cases are not related.

The letter states the entire eighth grade has not been quarantined during this time, but students and staff are recommended to continue practicing safety precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding meeting in groups.

Sixth- and seventh-grade students are continuing to meet for in-person instruction.

The letter outlined safety precautions at the school.

“Our hallways are clearly labeled to ensure social-distancing is maintained, in classrooms, desks are placed six feet apart, and students remain in one classroom throughout the majority of the day. Sanitizer and cleaning supplies are readily available in each classroom and utilized frequently throughout the day. Classes are ‘bubbled’ by floor ensuring that grade levels do not interact during the course of the day. At lunch all students face in the same direction and are seated one student to a table. We will continue to be vigilant of these safe practices in an effort to prevent, promptly identify, and respond to potential COVID-19 cases,” the letter read.

In addition, the district will continue to monitor students and staff for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and reminded parents to keep children at home if they show any symptoms of the disease.

Keener was not available for comment.

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