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State-and-regional
breaking top story
State
Illinois unemployment rate climbs to record 16.4% in April

SPRINGFIELD — The unemployment rate in Illinois reached a staggering 16.4% in April, the highest rate recorded since the modern system of tracking joblessness began in 1976, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

The previous record of 13.9% was set in February 1983, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The rate in April was 12.2 percentage points higher than March, which was revised downward to 4.2%, reflecting a revised estimate of the number of people in the labor force that month.

That news came just a few months after the state set a record low unemployment rate of 3.4% in November, reflecting the speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a virtual shutdown of most of the state and national economies.

The numbers reflect an overall loss of 762,200 nonfarm jobs since March, the largest single-month decline in state history, and a decline of 822,800 jobs since April 2019.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our economy, as has been the case in states across the nation,” Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes said in a statement. “As we move to safely reopen much of our economy, we are focused on ensuring working families and small businesses have the resources they need to recover, and we urge the federal government to step up and provide additional relief.”

IDES said that because of the high unemployment rate, extended state benefits are now available to those who exhaust their 26 weeks of regular state unemployment and the additional 13 weeks of federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC.

IDPH said that since March 1, it has processed more than 1.2 million claims for regular unemployment. In addition, it has processed 74,515 applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, since that program launched May 11, and another 36,367 applications for the PEUC program. Both of those programs are 100 percent federally funded.

During his daily COVID-19 media briefing, however, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said even those additional programs might not be enough to help unemployed workers weather the storm.

“I’ll be honest with you, I see the $600 extra that people got and are getting in unemployment benefits, even that added on top of the existing unemployment benefits doesn’t seem to be enough,” he said. “And when you think about the amount of time that it looks like, that the economists, not me, the economists are saying that it might take us to get back to normal, I’m concerned that the typical number of weeks that are allowed may not be enough.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Illinois leisure and hospitality industry was hit the hardest by the pandemic, shedding more than 295,000 jobs during the month, or nearly half of the sector’s workforce. The trade, transportation and utilities sector lost just fewer than 100,000 jobs, or about 8% since March. Professional and business services shrank by 93,800 jobs, or 11.3%.

If there was any good news in Thursday’s report, it was that the economic impact of the pandemic and shutdown orders showed signs of leveling off.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday there were 72,816 new claims for unemployment filed in Illinois during the week ending May 16 — a staggeringly high number, but an increase of just 145 from the week before.

In addition, for the week ending May 9, there were 733,466 workers in Illinois receiving continuing unemployment benefits, a decrease of 22,446 from the week before.

Pritzker said Wednesday that all four regions of the state are on track to enter the next phase of his reopening plan on May 29. That will enable most offices and retail establishments to reopen, using social distancing restrictions. Also, bars and restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor seating using social distancing practices.

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.

Meet the 'Mask Committee,' making masks for Southern Illinois police, health care workers

Photos: Meet the 'Mask Committee,' making masks for Southern Illinois police, health care workers

Carbondale Middle School eighth grader Raihan Arofah (center) along with his parents, Lumban (left) and Rika (right), and brother, Mevlana, wave to a passing caravan of teachers who were honoring their students being promoted on to high school on Thursday morning in Carbondale.


Govt-and-politics
breaking top story
Pritzker administration working on guidance for reopening next week

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday his administration is developing guidelines for local governments and businesses to follow as the state prepares to enter the next phase of reopening the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have guidance documents that are being prepared, work that’s already being done to make sure that people have enough time to open safely,” Pritzker said during his daily pandemic briefing in his office at the Capitol.

He reiterated that all four regions of the state are on track to enter Phase 3 of the reopening plan on May 29, when offices, barber shops, beauty salons and most retail businesses will be allowed to reopen under capacity limits and social distancing guidelines. People will also be allowed to gather in groups of 10 or fewer people.

Pritzker also announced this week that bars and restaurants also will be allowed to reopen for outdoor service, also under capacity limits, social distancing guidelines and other safety measures. Also, all state parks will reopen, as will indoor and outdoor tennis facilities. And golf courses will allow foursomes on the course, with a limit of one person per cart.

Still, Pritzker faced a number of questions from news media throughout the state Thursday on issues ranging from youth sports activities to worship services.

“I’m certainly working with (the Illinois Department of Public Health) to make sure that summer sports, to the extent we can do it with 10 or fewer people, that we want to make that happen,” he said. “More outdoor activity within the parameters of what epidemiologists are saying, I want. I think it will be difficult to have crowds in a stand watching those games, but I know that there are little league games and other sports during the summer that perhaps could happen … and IDPH is working with folks who run those games to make sure that if you can do it, they’re done safely.”

With regard to worship services and retail businesses, however, Pritzker indicated he is not backing away from the 10-person limit.

“We’re still in a phase where 10 people or fewer is the desired number. That’s what the epidemiologists are recommending and so on,” he said. “Many small stores, that is a number that is maybe less than they normally have in their store, but it’s still a reasonably good number and they can keep track of people who are coming in and out, and people who can’t fit in can certainly socially distance as they wait outside to go in.”

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The percentage of COVID-19 tests with positive results daily in Illinois from March 10 to May 21. Data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“With regard to churches and mosques and synagogues, I think it’s important for people to get together and worship, but again, we’ve got to follow the same rules. The whole idea here — and this isn’t something that I made up, this is something that the epidemiologists really have emphasized — that until we know whether having larger groups together and what the effect of that is, we need to watch what it’s like when we let everybody get together in groups of 10, even with social distancing.”

Jerry Nowicki, Capitol News Illinois 

The number of COVID-19 tests and the number of positive results daily in Illinois from March 10 to May 21. Data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

IDPH reported Thursday that 2,268 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state over the previous 24 hours and that 87 additional people had died of virus-related illness. That brings the total since the pandemic first appeared in Illinois to 102,686 confirmed cases and 4,607 deaths. The disease has been detected in 100 of the state’s 102 counties.

There were 4,107 people hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms Thursday, including 1,088 in intensive care units, and 609 of those ICU patients were on ventilators. Those are all increases from Wednesday’s numbers.

Since Wednesday, laboratories had processed 29,307 specimens, the highest single-day total yet.

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.

Did you know? These 29 celebrities went to SIU.

Did you know? These 29 celebrities went to SIU.

In this March 22, 2010, file photo the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux logo is seen on the floor of the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. The University of North Dakota had the logo for more than 80 years before retiring it after the NCAA deemed it hostile toward Native Americans. The school removed it from most of its campus, but it remained at the hockey arena because it was etched into the seats and, as you can see, into the tiles of the floor. The school still sells merchandise with the Fighting Sioux logo, but now go by the Fighting Hawks. 


President Donald Trump speaks during a listening session Thursday with African-American leaders at Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., which has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment.


Local
alert
Some Southern Illinois counties push back tax deadlines

CARBONDALE — In light of the struggles many face with joblessness and loss of income due to COVID-19, some counties are offering longer windows to pay property taxes.

On Tuesday, the Jackson County Board approved a proposal from County Treasurer Liz Hunter to expand the payment window from 30 days to 60 days for non-mobile home property taxes. It also eliminated any fees that normally would have been incurred for missing the first payment deadline.

This was done in order to provide at least a little bit of relief for county residents who have been impacted by COVID-19-related closures or layoffs.

Hunter told The Southern that her office hopes to have due dates set for taxes by the end of June, but anticipated that the first due date will be Sept. 15 with the second date coming 60 days later in November. She said the decision by the board Tuesday doubles the window residents normally have to pay their tax bills. She said the board also pushed back mobile home taxes by a month — typically due in early July, Hunter said they are now due Aug. 3.

“In a year with such unique circumstances for everyone in our county, we have to do all we can to help taxpayers while still honoring our office’s obligation to collect and distribute property taxes in a timely manner,” Hunter said in a news release.

While doubling the gap may mean the county will not have all the funds to distribute to local taxing bodies, like schools, park districts and library districts, Hunter said she’s had support from local leaders on the decision. She said local school superintendents sent in a letter of support. She also said the county will be dispersing funds frequently during the 60-day window.

Williamson County is on track to be doing something similar. County Treasurer Ashley Gott said Thursday that he is working on plans to expand payment periods and defer fees for taxpayers. However, he said, the final details are still coming together.

Franklin and Perry counties are in a different boat, though.

“It would be difficult for us to do that,” Franklin County commissioner Larry Miller said Thursday.

He said the county has struggles financially and that there has not yet been discussion of providing relief for taxpayers when it comes to their bills. In fact, he said the county has had to borrow against future tax revenues already this year, which makes delaying tax payments even harder.

In Perry County, Treasurer Mary Jane Craft said they were in a similar boat. With COVID-19 causing working restrictions for county offices on top of staff shortages, she said the county is already about 14 weeks behind schedule.

“If you don’t have a full workforce, you can’t do it as fast,” Craft said.

She said it’s her hope to have all the taxes in and collected by the end of the fiscal year in November. She did note that the county did push back the payment deadline for mobile home taxes from July 15 to Aug. 15.

Craft said in her county she has already gotten calls from taxing bodies, like local school districts, wanting to know when they can expect to get their allotted payments. She tells them they are going as fast as they can.

“There’s nothing we can do about it right now,” she said about the pace of work.

Did you know? These 29 celebrities went to SIU.

Did you know? These 29 celebrities went to SIU.