Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a number of financial initiatives Wednesday to assist owners of bars, restaurants, hotels and other small businesses during the economic slowdown caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
By Friday, he said, owners of businesses with fewer than 50 employees and less than $3 million in 2019 revenue can qualify for a piece of $90 million in state emergency assistance through three new programs.
Pritzker additionally is pushing Illinois’ tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15 to match the federal government’s action.
The first of the state’s new programs, called the Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan Fund, caters to businesses outside of Chicago. That program includes $60 million for loans worth up to $50,000. Each allows five years for a borrower to make payments, with a delay window of six months.
That offers “crucial time for business owners to begin recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19,” Pritzker said during a daily press briefing in Chicago.
The second program also focuses on businesses outside of Chicago, “specifically in areas with low to moderate income populations,” the governor said. The Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program provides grants up to $25,000.
The Hospitality Emergency Grant Program offers funds to owners of hotels, bars and restaurants for payroll, rent and job training costs, as well as technology upgrades to allow for pickup or delivery of food and beverages, “which for now have become central to many restaurants staying open,” Pritzker said.
Applications for the loans and grants are available at coronavirus.illinois.gov or on the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website.
“Hotels throughout Illinois are among the most impacted industries when it comes to economic decline over the past month,” Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, said. “...The damage is worse than the impacts of 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined.”
These new programs could allay the need for additional layoffs, he added. In “just the last several days,” there were “tens of thousands of layoffs” and the association expects that number to reach 120,000.
Pritzker also disclosed a number of initiatives his administration is undertaking to financially support other groups of Illinoisans.
“We are all concerned about the economy, for our workers and small business owners who have been displaced through no fault of their own, and for our efforts to create a soft landing so that we can push through this pandemic and return to a growing economy that lifts all boats,” Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs said. “However, make no mistake, our decisions should be guided by medical experts and science, not by television talking heads and Twitter posts.”
The governor urged homeowners to contact their mortgage servicer to take advantage of an initiative Pritzker said he helped negotiate. Institutions, including the federal government and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that own mortgages agreed to offer multi-month payment delays.
His office additionally sent memos to the three national credit bureaus asking them not to diminish Illinoisans’ credit ratings due to the current “instabilities.”
Frerichs said his office “rolled over $200 million in investment notes, or loans,” to the comptroller’s office to pay medical bills. Because the treasurer is permitted to invest up to $2 billion in Illinois’ bill backlog at a reduced rate, as opposed to a 9 or 12 percent interest rate, this step will save money, he said.
“The enduring impacts of COVID-19 on Illinoisans’ lives and livelihoods will be significant,” the governor said. “We must take every action possible to help people all across our state.”
330 new confirmed cases, three more coronavirus deaths
The announcement of new programs came at the same Chicago COVID-19 briefing in which Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said the confirmed COVID-19 case count climbed by 330, to 1,865. She added three more residents have died from the virus, bringing total deaths in the state to 19.
The virus now has a confirmed presence in 35 of Illinois’ 102 counties.
“As difficult as it is to hear the news of more cases and deaths each day, I do believe sharing this information will keep us focused and remind us of why we all need to continue doing the right things,” Ezike said. “Doing the right thing will eventually lead us to these numbers decreasing and eventually ending this current pandemic.”
The statistics in Illinois will continue to “get worse before it gets better,” she added. That is why following the state’s guidance is important — Illinoisans should wash their hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, clean commonly-used items and surfaces and stay home.
Tests, which remain in short supply, are prioritized for hospitalized patients and patients with severe underlying conditions as well as symptomatic health care workers, first responders and other critical infrastructure workers.
Illinoisans who feel unwell should call their doctor to relay symptoms. Depending on that assessment, the clinician will determine whether further action, including a test, is necessary.
The Department of Public Health’s current guidance is for those who are ill to stay home for at least seven days after their symptoms, including a fever, cease. That number is down from 14 days, Ezike said, due to new information medical officials across the globe are learning every day.
Pritzker urged Illinoisans to follow the state’s guidance, as opposed to that offered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because it is specific to the state. The CDC’s directions “really has been a one-size-fits-all,” he said.
“We’re doing what we think is right and believe this (the stay at home order) is a very effective way for us to diminish the spread of COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “... We’re doing what is best for the people in Illinois.”
The state’s medical community is receiving new personal protective equipment, such as gowns, gloves and face masks, “all the time now,” the governor said, though not “all that much” from the federal government.
Some of the equipment might have an earlier expiration date on it, but it is still effective, Ezike said. As part of the Shelf Life Extension program, which was also carried out during the H1N1 outbreak, all such materials are inspected to ensure their functionality.
When asked whether the daily fight against the novel coronavirus was taking a toll, Ezike said “it is hard.”
“I’m a doctor, I’m a mother, and I just buried by father last month, and so when I think about people who can’t do what I did for my father last month, I feel it very real as to what people are going through and the sacrifices that they’re making,” she said.
The governor also said his administration is working to ensure those in prison remain safe. One option officials are exploring is releasing low-level offenders who have served most of their sentence.
“Anyone we can remove from that space gives us just a little room to have recovery areas for people who might be sick in our prison system,” he said.