Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker moved Wednesday to give residents reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic a three-month extension to file their state income tax returns, aligning Illinois with the federal government’s new summer tax-filing deadline.
That means the state’s more than 6 million taxpayers will have until July 15 to file their returns with Springfield rather than April 15, though state revenue officials say more than half have already filed.
Pritzker told reporters at his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday that the move would “support our residents and most small businesses and … soften the immediate economic impact of this moment.”
Meanwhile, the state’s death toll from COVID-19 reached 19 Wednesday, with the state announcing the deaths of a Kane County man in his 90s, a Cook County man in his 60s and a Will County woman in her 50s.
The number of fatalities has more than tripled since Saturday, when the death toll stood at six and Pritzker began a stay-at-home order that is keeping most Illinoisans in their homes until further notice except for trips for necessities like groceries, fuel, medicine or medical treatment.
Additionally, 330 new cases of COVID-19 were identified Wednesday, bringing the state total to 1,865. That new amount represents more than double the 753 cases that had been confirmed as of Saturday.
“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 all why we need to continue doing the right things,” state Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said.
“Doing the right thing will eventually lead us to these numbers decreasing and eventually ending this current pandemic,” she said.
With the state’s economy in complete freefall from the pandemic, Pritzker also announced Wednesday more than $90 million in emergency aid for small businesses crippled by the effects of the governor’s orders to close bars, restaurants and non-essential state businesses to combat the virus.
That includes a $60 million fund supporting low-interest loans of up to $50,000 for small businesses in every industry outside Chicago.
A second piece sets up a $20 million grant program for small employers in suburban and rural counties across Illinois. Qualifying businesses with 50 or fewer workers could receive up to $25,000 in grants under the program.
The last prong of Pritzker’s package includes a $14 million grant program for small bars, restaurants and hotels to assist in maintaining payroll and paying rent. Eligible bars and restaurants could get up to $25,000 in grants, while eligible hotels could receive up to $50,000.
Appearing with Pritzker Wednesday, the head of the trade group representing Illinois hotels and motels said his industry is expecting as many as 120,000 job cuts around the state in coming weeks and hailed the relief funds as “critical resources to hoteliers to avoid as many layoffs as possible.”
“Hotels throughout Illinois are among the most impacted industries when it comes to economic decline over the past month,” said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association. “Hotel properties that originally were projecting to have a hotel occupancy rate in the 70 percent range are now in the teens or even single digits. The damage is worse than the impacts of 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined.”
Information on the emergency small-business aid can be found on the state’s COVID-19 website: www.coronavirus.illinois.gov.
Other pandemic-related developments coming from the governor’s office or Springfield include:
Unemployment insurance snafus: With state jobless claims skyrocketing, the state’s online portal for laid-off workers to apply for unemployment insurance benefits remains overloaded. Pritzker said the state is working to beef up the website’s capacity but urged filers to consider submitting applications during off hours until glitches can be fixed. “Hang with us here. We’re going to make changes,” the governor said. “It is true it’s not working the way I want it to.”
Prison lockdowns: Among the 330 new COVID-19 cases announced Wednesday were two correctional officers and one inmate at the Stateville Correctional Center. The two correctional officers are recovering at home, while the prisoner is in isolation and recovering at a hospital, state public health officials said. A contractual employee at Sheridan Correctional Center also got positive test results for COVID-19. Those who came into contact with the new cases are under quarantine, and both prisons are on a 14-day lockdown. Since the pandemic began, six prisoners and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, WBEZ has reported.
Federal stimulus: Pritzker said he was unclear how the pending $2 trillion federal stimulus package awaiting congressional approval could impact Illinois, but internal analysis was underway. “A lot of this is population-based, I should say, and so Illinois being the sixth [most] populous state in the United States, it allows us to get a larger percentage than many other states,” Pritzker said.
Close to home: While Pritzker remains healthy, he said the virus has touched his circle of friends. “I have a friend who I spoke with today whose wife and children all have fevers. All are experiencing some symptoms. They’re staying at home. They’re on their way, I hope, to recovery,” the governor said, without identifying the family. “But you can imagine my friend’s concern for his family is great. All of us are aware of how serious this situation is and are touched by somebody.”
Playing nice with Trump: Pritzker was asked if his criticisms of President Donald Trump could end up hurting Illinois in receiving supplies from the federal government. Pritzker largely praised people he’s worked with so far at the federal level, but then suggested that he will continue to criticize the president if it means that Illinois will see results. “Sometimes when I have to be critical in order to get something done I’m going to be doing that. You’ll hear me do that. But I am not somebody who normally likes to take on a confrontation … but I will, especially on something this serious.”
Legislative cancellations: Illinois lawmakers don’t appear to be planning to come to Springfield any time soon. Both the House and Senate scrapped plans to be in session next week.