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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., arrives for a news conference at the Capitol, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Washington.

Manuel Balce Ceneta

WBEZ’s Rundown Of Today’s Top News: Congress Closes In On Stimulus Deal

Hey there! It’s Wednesday, and I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun in Chicago. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Congressional leaders move closer to reaching a deal on federal relief

The top Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress are close to forging a deal on a $900 billion relief package that would provide a second round of stimulus payments to Americans, boost unemployment benefits and provide aid to small businesses, congressional aides told NPR.

The details have not been finalized, but South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a top GOP leader, said the proposal will likely include stimulus payments of $600 to $700 and a $300 enhancement of weekly jobless benefits through March.

The plan is not expected to include two line items that were contentious issues for Republicans and Democrats: liability shields for businesses and funding for states and local governments. [NPR]

The apparent breakthrough in stimulus negotiations came as nearly 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer, according to researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. [Washington Post]

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department today reported worse-than-expected retail sales for the month of November. For the first time since spring, retail sales fell, raising questions about consumer confidence, a key pillar for a healthy economy. [CNBC]

2. Vaccine shipments to Illinois will be significantly reduced

Gov. JB Pritzker said today that the federal government has reduced the number of vaccines being shipped to Illinois and other states. The governor said Illinois could receive a total of 4.3 million doses in the next two weeks, down from an initial estimate of 8-to-9 million. [Chicago Tribune]

State officials today announced 146 deaths and 7,123 cases. Over the past seven days, the state has seen an average of 141 fatalities per day, up 22% from the average two weeks ago. [WBEZ]

While the pandemic is surging on both the East and West coasts, the Midwest is seeing a drop in cases. [AP]

Meanwhile, about 71% of people surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the past few weeks say they will get vaccines, up from 63% in a previous poll from the fall.

The survey results suggest that public health officials and leaders across the country are making gains in boosting public trust for a vaccine and convincing Americans to get one. [NPR]

3. Only 37% of eligible students plan to return to Chicago’s public schools

Chicago Public Schools today announced that about 37% of elementary students will return to classrooms next year and a disproportionate number will be white, reports WBEZ’s Sarah Karp.

Nearly 68% of white and 33% of Asian parents said their children would be back. Only about 15% of the students in the district are white or Asian.

About 31% of Latino students and nearly 34% of Black students said they would return. These students make up more than 80% of students in the district.

The news comes as the city and the Chicago Teachers Union are in a heated debate about returning to in-person classes. District and city officials say both local and national data suggests schools can safely reopen. But union leaders say CPS has still not set benchmarks for reopening schools that are tied to public health data, such as case numbers and positivity rates. [WBEZ]

4. What we know about Pritzker’s budget cuts so far as Illinois faces a $3.9 billion shortfall

Illinois lawmakers are heading into the new year with the daunting task of closing a massive budget shortfall, raising the specter of tax hikes and cuts to state services at a time when many residents rely on government programs because of the pandemic’s economic impact.

Gov. JB Pritzker is not expected to unveil his budget plan until next year, but he took steps this week to address the state’s current budget hole by outlining more than $700 million in cuts that includes negotiating with unions to impose furlough days for state workers, reducing human service grants and extending a hiring freeze.

Those cuts come more than a month after Illinois voters rejected Pritzker’s plan to shift the state from a flat income tax to a graduated tax that would move the tax burden more on the wealthy. Pritzker’s administration estimated the graduated “Fair Tax” would bring in $3 billion a year.

WBEZ’s Tony Arnold asked Pritzker if he will now raise the flat income tax, but the governor said he is currently focused on cuts. [WBEZ]

5. Lightfoot wants to close the loopholes that allow federal immigration authorities to tap the Chicago police

Mayor Lori Lightfoot today followed through on her campaign pledge to introduce a plan that would close loopholes in Chicago’s sanctuary city rules.

Under the city’s current “Welcoming City” ordinance, Chicago police officers can cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a targeted individual is listed in the city’s gang database, if they have felony charges or convictions in their background and if there is a warrant for their arrest.

Lightfoot’s proposal would eliminate those exceptions. The mayor tried attaching the changes to her budget in the fall as she sought more support from Latino aldermen, but she removed the language after facing criticism for using it as a “budget sweetener.” [Chicago Sun-Times]

Meanwhile, the City Council’s Black Caucus wants an investigation into a police raid that targeted the wrong house. In 2019, officers raided the home of Anjanette Young as she was naked and getting ready for bed.

Lightfoot’s administration this week unsuccessfully tried preventing a TV news station from airing footage of the raid that was captured on police body cameras. Lightfoot today apologized to Young and said she was not aware about the attempt to stop reporting on the bodycam video. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Here’s what else is happening

  • President-elect Joe Biden is expected to soon announce his core climate team. [Reuters]
  • Investors of SolarWinds sold millions of dollars in stocks right before news broke that software from the company was compromised by Russian hackers. [Washington Post]
  • The Federal Reserve will keep a key interest rate near zero. [AP]
  • Major League Baseball said today it is “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history” by officially recognizing the Negro League. [ESPN]

Oh, and one more thing …

Many radio stations jumped the gun on switching to Christmas music this year.

Majic 95.1, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., started playing Christmas music in JULY, reports The Associated Press.

“I think everybody is trying to rush the holiday this year just so we can get beyond it,” said Emily Boldon, vice president of adult contemporary radio at Cumulus Media. “I really truly believe the audience was just ready to get to the end of 2020 as fast as possible this year.”

Yeah, no kidding. [AP]

Tell me something good ...

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the pandemic is over?

Francesca Kelly writes:

“I will hug my kids and grandkids. I will travel again. I will actually go inside a supermarket, a bookstore, the hairdresser. I will put on Stevie Winwood’s song ‘Back in the High Life’ and dance.

“And I will mourn. It is almost impossible to make sense of the enormity of loss. I am keeping my head down and moving forward with remote work, hobbies, a daily routine, walking the dog, staying masked and safe when outside the house.

“About once every day or two, I let myself actually feel our collective grief, and I cry. But the rest of the time, I cope. This also means praying, every single day, that I and my loved ones continue to stay healthy. Some in our family have gotten the virus but seem to have recovered with no side effects. I pray that nothing worse happens.

“But a certain amount of distraction and focus are necessary to get through this mentally. That is why I feel so keenly for those who are in hospitals and morgues and nursing homes, witnessing what’s happening first-hand, unable to get away from it. Every day I give thanks that I can just stay home.

“So I want us all to do everything possible to help those on the front lines, including not insisting they be heroes. Telling them it’s OK if they just can’t do this anymore. And most of all, just staying the heck home so I’m not just one more person they have to see dying. I am hoping that an employment surge after the pandemic is over will include many, many therapists, because people are going to need them.”

What will you do when the pandemic is over? Feel free to email at or tweet to @whuntah.

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