Here are excerpts of editorials published in Illinois newspapers.
December 8, 2020
Take if from April Ibanez and small business owners: We’ll get through this pandemic better together
Consider the crossroads of crises in two front-page stories in (the) Sun-Times:
Ald. Tom Tunney was caught serving customers indoors at his Ann Sather restaurant during the pandemic, violating state and city orders. He shouldn’t have done this, as he admits, but there is no question restaurants are desperate.
And 450,000 unemployed people in Illinois, such as the worried, single mother in Chicago named April Ibanez, are in danger of losing their unemployment benefits on the day after Christmas. Ibanez was furloughed from a restaurant job last spring when the pandemic first hit.
The two stories tell a single story about how the coronavirus pandemic is hammering our nation’s economy, with devastating consequences for small businesses and individuals alike.
The most responsible national response, both to save whole sectors of the economy and to help people in desperate straits, would be a more aggressive federal financial stimulus — on a scale already seen in some other countries.
Our nation will get through this pandemic. Vaccines are on the way. The only question is whether we will get there as humanely as possible, practicing the rules of mitigation, without allowing COVID-19 to lay waste to our economy and livelihoods.
Congress is contemplating a bipartisan $908 billion pandemic relief package, which beats nothing at all. It is better than an earlier $500 billion plan put forward by Republicans, even if it falls far short of a $2.2 trillion package put forward by Democrats. But if the aim is for our nation to emerge from this crisis stable and whole, positioned to bounce back, it simply is not enough.
Unemployed workers would receive $300 a week of enhanced federal jobless benefits, just half of the $600-a-week boost workers received from last spring’s CARES Act. Small businesses would be similarly shorted. Most notably, a $120 billion proposal to assist independent restaurants and bars with fewer than 20 locations — the Restaurants Act — is nowhere to be found in this relief package.
How might this play out, just as an example, as we creep toward a post-pandemic world? A great little Italian restaurant on Taylor Street — a family business — might be forced to close permanently, even as some deep-pockets corporate chain like Olive Garden sweeps in. And even that Olive Garden is no sure thing.
The restaurant and bar industry is expected to lose $240 billion this year, the Washington Post reports, and some analysts warn that 85% of small, independent restaurants will close without federal help.
In a letter to Congress on Monday, the National Restaurant Association warned that “500,000 restaurants of every business type — franchise, chain and independent — are in an economic free fall.”
In normal times, we might understand the reluctance of Republicans to support more generous government assistance to businesses and workers. The free market picks winners and losers. But these are not normal times, and nothing about them reflects the workings of free markets. They reflect the workings of a modern-day plague.
The argument, put forth by some Republicans, that more generous unemployment benefits would encourage slothfulness is absurd. The argument that a larger stimulus package would dangerously run up the federal deficit, coming from a Republican Party that has padded the deficit by $6.6 trillion in the last four years, is dishonest.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood during the Great Depression — and as leaders of other countries understand now during the pandemic — there are times when a nation must pull out all the stops.
Japan’s economic stimulus during the pandemic has been equal to 21.1% of that country’s gross domestic product. Canada’s has been equal to 16.4% of its GDP. But the United States, where the social safety net was so much smaller to begin with, has provided stimulus funding equal to 13.2% of GDP.
For the sake of every business and every worker, we can do better.
December 6, 2020
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
State budget numbers disturbing
The coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster for the administration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who probably never imagined the public-health crisis he would confront after becoming this state’s chief executive.
As it continues to devastate the state, the coronavirus is exacerbating its severe financial woes while at the same time distracting public attention from the fallout of its bad habit of spending far more money than it has available.
To cover a massive shortfall, Pritzker announced last week that the state will borrow another $2 billion from the Federal Reserve’s Municipal Liquidity Facility. That’s on top of borrowing $1.2 billion from the fund in June.
The Fed’s fund, which will expire at the end of the year, was established to help states and municipalities address financial needs in the event they are unable to borrow in the traditional market.
The fact that Illinois is the only entity to take advantage of this option is just one indication of the state’s dire financial condition.
The additional $2 billion in borrowing is intended to cover shortfalls in revenue.
But there is more than one kind of shortfall here. Legislators have for years passed one deficit budget after another, and that was their plan again this year. However, the coronavirus pandemic that hit the nation in March severely complicated Illinois’ financial problems due to the economic freeze resulting from Pritzker’s lockdown. His subsequent modifications of that lockdown eased the problems but haven’t generated enough revenue to solve them.
As a consequence, Illinois is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
Pritzker expressed concern about borrowing from the Fed’s fund because he said it will “saddle our state with a large amount of short-term debt” that must be repaid.
“Our collection intention is to repay this line of credit as early as possible, after either the awarding of stimulus by Congress or a sufficient recovery of state revenues,” he said.
It seems clear Illinois’ economy is not going to come roaring back soon.
The University of Illinois Flash Index, a gauge of the state’s economy overseen by Professor J. Fred Giertz, was progressing nicely, but Giertz’s latest report said “progress stalled” in November.
The index revealed that equity markets are looking strong but that “the flash index is based on current results that do not reflect these expectations.”
That means that Pritzker is left depending on a federal bailout to pay back federal loans, all in the face of an estimated $4 billion budget deficit, $7 billion in unpaid bills and more than $300 billion in unfunded state pension and retiree health insurance obligations.
All those numbers add up to big trouble. As hard as it is to imagine, Illinois is closing out 2020 in even worse shape than it was at the beginning.
December 5, 2020
Sauk Valley Media
Response timeline for LaSalle Veterans Home COVID-19 outbreak questionable
Residing in an assisted living facility during a pandemic comes with risks. Even when staff members are practicing safety measures inside and outside the doors, no one lives in a bubble and can be 100% protected from COVID-19.
We’ve seen outbreaks at such facilities throughout the past nine months. All are terrifying and sad. Such as the case with the La Salle Veterans Home, which for the first eight months of the pandemic, had, to the staff’s credit, relatively few COVID-19 cases.
And then came November. As of Thursday, 30 La Salle Veterans Home residents – a quarter of the population – have died from complications related to COVID-19.
Nearly all the residents have tested positive, as well as about 100 staff members.
How did this happen? How do we stop it? What steps did the administration/staff take to control the outbreak? How do we prevent this from happening again? These are questions state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, is pushing to get answered. Rezin has been a strong advocate for residents and their families for weeks, pushing for legislative hearings, and just as importantly, talking and listening to residents’ families. She’s also heard from staff members looking for help and willing to provide a little insight, even after being told to keep quiet.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee finally met last week. Without reason, Rezin was not allowed to participate. To exclude the Senate’s point person in the district, someone who had already spent much time talking with constituents about the issue and likely had more inside information than any other legislator, is unacceptable.
Rezin continues to push for more hearings to get to the bottom of the outbreak. Last week’s hearing left more questions than answers, but did reveal reports documenting areas for immediate change, including replacing all nonalcohol-based hand sanitizers with alcohol-based sanitizers; testing residents and staff two times a week for COVID-19, rather than once a week; and requiring staff to follow strict personal protective equipment guidelines.
State officials pointed to a rise in community spread as a cause, but other veterans homes in areas with high infection rates weren’t seeing the same spikes in cases and deaths.
IDVA Director Linda Chapa LaVia said the agency is committed to a transparent review of the circumstances surrounding the outbreak and has adopted all recommendations from a number of agencies. Let’s hope that’s not just lip service.
And it’s puzzling that the IDPH’s site visit was on Nov. 13 – 12 days after the initial outbreak. Chapa LaVia said she believes the agency responded as quickly as it could. Rezin, and many others, including this editorial board, are unconvinced. In contrast, when the Quincy Veterans Home had a Legionnaires outbreak, the state conducted a site visit by day three.
The IDVA has asked for an independent investigation, which we fully support, if it’s truly independent. However, the timeline of the investigation could take anywhere between four and six months, which doesn’t help the outbreak raging at the home today.
The typical political timetable of examining a problem and conducting an investigation and producing a report months down the road is of little help. Yes, there needs to be an investigation, but action and answers are needed now.
“The Illinois Department of Public Health should have uncovered the problems detailed in the November 13 site visit report at the beginning of the outbreak, not two weeks into the deadliest outbreak seen at a state-run facility in Illinois history,” Rezin tweeted.
There’s still time to slow the outbreak, and hopefully some of the protocols pushed after the senate hearing last week are helping. The staff and residents deserve clear guidance, and proper oversight to ensure these homes are following the rules.
Our veterans deserve better.