Apr 15, 2020
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker Press Conference Transcript April 15
Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois held a coronavirus press briefing today, April 15. He announced nearly 25,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases now reported in Illinois, and discussed the economic impact. Read the full transcript here.
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J. B. Pritzker: (03:56)
Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us again today. I have with me my deputy governor for budget and economy, Dan Hynes and our IDPH director, Ngozi Ezike. From the very beginning of our COVID-19 response, my purpose in appearing before you each day has been to fully inform our residents and to guide us through the impacts of this virus, its medical consequences, and its effects on all aspects of our way of life. I’ve been straightforward with you about what we know and of equal importance, what we don’t know, to make sure that you have the information that you need to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe and to help each other overcome the potentially devastating consequences of this virus.
J. B. Pritzker: (04:46)
After discussing it with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle, today I want to review with you the financial impacts of COVID-19 on our state budget and walk you through our early projections regarding the revenue shortfalls that Illinois is facing due to the impacts of COVID-19. As I do so, keep in mind that these are preliminary and estimated figures since this virus has not yet vanquished and there remains so much uncertainty still about when that will happen. Folks, you don’t have to be an epidemiologist to see that the virus is going to hit our budget hard, a reality that is being visited upon every state in the United States. The bottom line is this, budget experts estimate that Illinois will have a $2.7 billion shortfall of revenues for this fiscal year and a $4.6 billion shortfall for next fiscal year.
J. B. Pritzker: (05:52)
Let me dig into those numbers a little so that you can see where the challenges really lie. As a general rule of thumb, state budgets across the United States are dependent upon taxes, on income, sales, and other sources such as lotteries and gaming for a substantial portion of their state budgets. In every state, the coronavirus pandemic has substantially disrupted those revenue sources. That’s true regardless of political affiliation and regardless of how fast or slow a state’s leadership moved to implement social distancing measures. Even those few States still operating without a stay at home order are facing massive fiscal hardship. This is a public health crisis, but it is accompanied by massive economic disruption that’s unprecedented in modern history.
J. B. Pritzker: (06:49)
Last February when I presented a fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, my office of management and budget released general funds revenue forecasts for the remainder of fiscal year ’20 and for fiscal year ’21. With those estimates in hand, I proposed a balanced budget, a budget that invested in our longterm strengths that will lead to our future economic growth. Schools, job creation, infrastructure maintenance, human services, public safety, and I acknowledged the intractable realities of Illinois’ structural budget deficiencies and proposed facing them head on. That budget proposal represented an essential next step on the path toward fiscal health for Illinois. Based on our new preliminary projections on the economic impact of COVID-19, that path has fundamentally diminished to the narrowest of paths.
J. B. Pritzker: (07:51)
Let’s start with fiscal year 2020. Estimates by our Department of Revenue economists show a 7% drop in our state source revenue. That’s the $2.7 billion that I mentioned earlier. $1 billion of that decline is due to the three month extension of the April 15th deadline for filing 2019 income tax returns. Because of that extension, those revenues will be received in FY ’21 instead of in FY ’20. So in looking to close the FY ’20 fiscal gap, we have already begun taking steps to reduce expenditures, asking agency directors to enact spending reductions and deficiencies. And I’ll remind you that earlier this year, we asked those directors to identify efficiencies when we prepared for the FY ’21 budget and secured a savings plan of nearly a billion dollars over three years, much of which our agencies were already moving toward ahead of schedule. That said, my cabinet members are hard at work realizing as much of those savings far sooner. Beyond that, my team has been working with the treasurer and the controller to leverage over $700 million in other state funds to support the operations of state government and to issue up to $1.2 billion in short term borrowing as constitutionally permitted in unexpected situations like this one. Both treasurer Frerichs and controller Mendoza have offered tremendously creative and responsible leadership in shifting our dollars to where they can be most impactful as a response to COVID-19. This is not the path any of us would choose under normal circumstances, but it is the best path available to us with the two and a half months left in this fiscal year.
J. B. Pritzker: (09:59)
Our state has made tremendous fiscal progress in the last one and a half years, enacting a balanced budget, reducing our bill backlog by nearly a billion dollars in my first year in office, and reducing our late payment penalties from the $950 million they had reached before I became governor to just over $100 million instead this fiscal year. This crisis, however, will take us off course for a little while and we must put ourselves back on track as soon as we can. That brings me to fiscal year 2021. With our new revenue projections, my administration is estimating that there will be at least $4.6 billion less in state revenues than our Department of Revenue originally estimated. Accounting for paying back the short term borrowing that we must do in fiscal year ’20, our total budgetary gap for FY ’21 is $6.2 billion.
J. B. Pritzker: (11:04)
And if in November the constitutional amendment to move from a flat tax to a graduated tax system doesn’t pass, that budgetary gap will expand to $7.4 billion. Illinoisans are all too familiar with the pain the lack of a state budget can cause. So let me just say up front, we will not go without a state budget. We will need to make extraordinarily difficult decisions on top of the difficult decisions that we’ve already made. But together with the state legislature, we will make them and we will do so with an unswerving dedication to fairness. In my inaugural address, I said that I would not balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering. It’s during our most trying moments that our resolve is truly tested, our moral character as a state is tested.
J. B. Pritzker: (12:03)
So in the midst of a pandemic, I am more resolute than ever to protect those who are suffering physical and financial hardship from it. I want to express my gratitude to our Illinois congressional delegation, our senators and congressmen of both parties for their support for the first CARES Act, which provides up to $2.7 billion to cover state government expenditures in response to the pandemic. It also provides critical support for Illinois’ education agencies, local governments, senior aid, transit systems, hospitals, and many other areas. This COVID response funding is very important. It will directly support our work to secure PPE and ventilators, to stand up alternate care facilities and alternate housing to help us keep people safe and save lives.
J. B. Pritzker: (13:03)
But I want to be clear, these dollars can be used to cover only new expenditures related to coronavirus. Currently this funding cannot be used to make up for state government revenue shortfalls that have been a result of coronavirus. That leaves states to face this unprecedented financial hole on their own if the Congress doesn’t pass a CARES Act Two to support state governments. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle from across the nation have pointed out that it is absolutely critical that Congress pass another stimulus bill to assist states and territories through this crisis. The Federal government acted swiftly to step in and support businesses and corporations so that they can come out on the other side of this and jumpstart the economy, but the same type of action is needed in support of state governments. This is about ensuring that in the wake of this pandemic, the nation isn’t facing down a second storm standing in the way of funding for schools and healthcare, clean water and clean air, greater public safety, more job creating small businesses, improved care for our most vulnerable children and seniors. This is about the continuity of the essential services that give people a real chance. Last year, Illinois’ Republicans and Democrats alike rolled up our sleeves and produced a bipartisan balanced budget that has begun to put our state back on a sound fiscal path. It’s the most fundamental task of state government, and even under these unprecedented circumstances, it must be carried out and it will be. Responsible leadership on both sides are committed to doing so. Illinois, when I said that we were all in this together, that’s true. From Cairo to Chicago, from Rockford to Metropolis-
Governor Pritzker: (15:03)
From Cairo to Chicago, from Rockford to Metropolis, we are one Illinois, but it’s also true across the country. We are one nation, and as a nation made up of the 50 states, we are facing, by early estimates, state budget deficits of at least a half a trillion dollars, largely concentrated in this coming fiscal year. Our greatest president once said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.” President Lincoln’s words ring true today, so we ask the Congress to do for the states what it alone can do to get us through this crisis together. Thank you, and now I’d like to invite Dr. Ezike to give today’s medical update.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (16:07)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon, everyone. Let me start by thanking our governor for his commitment to the people of Illinois and all the residents across all the communities. I hope everyone is continuing to do their best to stay healthy, not only physically but also emotionally. These are trying times, but this is an indicator of our resilience. I’m proud of the way that Illinois has responded thus far, but make no mistake, even though we are flattening the curve, we still have a ways to go, and we have to tough this out together. I report to you today that we have had 1,346 new cases over the last 24 hours, and unfortunately 80 additional lives lost to COVID-19. This brings our total case count for the state of Illinois to 24,593, along with 948 lives lost during these difficult times.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (17:11)
I’d like to share information about recent analysis of early data to offer even just a glimmer of hope. Analysis shows that implementing community mitigation strategies or non-pharmaceutical interventions and PIs during this pandemic can and will and has slowed the spread of infection. This includes the measures that we’ve all been taking: hand-washing, covering our cough, wearing a mask. These personal measures have been effective, but also the banning of mass gatherings, the staying at home, the social distancing, the environmental cleaning. These are also key strategies at the community level. These measures are working even though we continue to see new cases, even though we continue to report new deaths. Remember, this is a marathon. We are seeing a slowed rate of increase. These measures are cumulatively beneficial over time, but we have to stay the course.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (18:14)
I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to all the essential workers, who are not often thanked for the work that they do to keep our state moving. There are Illinoisans in the fields, on the farms, in the grocery stores restocking our shelves, postal workers, staff delivering the goods that we’ve ordered online to stay at home, not to mention the truck drivers keeping our country connected. Those working in banks ensure that we have access to the money we need, the people who are picking up our refuse, and so many others who are often overlooked during this pandemic, I salute you all and thank you for your service. We must all continue to do our part to protect the health of all of Illinois. We thank you for all that you’re doing to move our country forward. Remember that the actions that we take today will set us up for a better future. We are doing this together. Let’s remain all in, Illinois.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (19:17)
Now, I will translate comments into Spanish. [Spanish 00:04: 21].
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (23:14)
With that, I will turn it over to Governor Pritzker for questions.
Governor Pritzker: (23:16)
Thank you very much. Thank you. Happy to take any questions from our stalwart reporters who seem to show up at just about every day.
Speaker 3: (23:24)
Thank you, Governor. With those numbers, which sound pretty scary, is it time to rethink the graduated income tax?
Governor Pritzker: (23:34)
Look, it’s on the ballot for November. I think people will be making their own decision about it. I would argue, in a way, that we may need it now more than ever. Of course, this isn’t just about one year. It’s about fixing the structural deficit that exists for the state. We’re in a pandemic. We’re in an emergency. This crisis is causing a significant disruption to our fiscal year coming up, but we have many years ahead, and I think a fairer tax system makes sense to me.
Speaker 3: (24:07)
There is a report today about a secret flight of PPE. Can you give us more information, and do you really have to make it secret, because otherwise the feds might take the masks and gowns that you’re trying to bring here to Illinois?
Governor Pritzker: (24:23)
Well, look, I’m responsible for making sure that we have the PPE and the ventilators that we need for the state. The federal government, as we’ve talked about many times, has not been a great partner in that. They’ve helped, and I want to give credit for what we’ve gotten from the federal government, but it’s only really, in the end, a few days’ worth of items. We’ve had to search the entire globe to find what we need. Shipping is very difficult, so we’re doing what we need to do to make sure that we get the kind of PPE that we need. It is true that the federal government seems to be interrupting supplies that are being sent elsewhere in the nation, so I wanted to make sure that we receive what we ordered.
Speaker 3: (25:06)
When will you get that shipment, do you think?
Governor Pritzker: (25:08)
I don’t know the days on which those will arrive, but they are scheduled to arrive.
Speaker 3: (25:15)
From one of my colleagues, Katie Kim, some states, Iowa, released the names of the senior healthcare facilities and the nursing homes with coronavirus infections. Why not Illinois?
Governor Pritzker: (25:28)
I’m happy to turn it over to the doctor. The IDPH reports quite a lot about our nursing homes and the infection rate, but I’m happy to turn it over to you.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (25:40)
Releasing information regarding outbreaks that happen in facilities is not something that’s new to us. IDPH regularly does put that information out. I will take that back to the team if we haven’t been updating our lists.
Speaker 3: (25:53)
Thank you. Also, right now, family members with loved ones in nursing homes can only find out if a positive case or death if the nursing home voluntarily releases this info. What would you say to those families who are worried, and they’re wondering if their loved one is at risk?
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (26:12)
Again, remember that this is an unprecedented time, and traditionally we know that we’ve had potentially some shortages in staff in the nursing homes, particularly among the staff who are sick themselves. I think in the midst of trying to check everybody living in the nursing home to make sure that they’re not sick, to make sure that they’re separating people who’ve been exposed from people who are sick, from people who haven’t been exposed, to doing the pre-shift assessments for all of the employees, I think everyone is being tasked with additional duties. I think it’s absolutely the intention in every nursing home to contact families when they have a loved one that’s sick and to give updates. I’m going to speak for the nursing homes when I say I probably it’s just backlog and not that they don’t want to, but trying to manage all the tasks in addition to caring for the loved ones that they’ve been tasked with.
Speaker 3: (27:01)
Might you remind them that this is information that folks are desperate for?
Dr. Ngozi Ezike: (27:05)
Speaker 3: (27:06)
Several state senators are urging the lifting of the stringent social distancing. When the Illinois Hospital Association says that the ICU bed capacity is sufficient, is that a factor? Will you consider that?
Governor Pritzker: (27:22)
Again, I’ve said day in and day out that we’re going to rely upon the epidemiologists and the scientists to tell us what social distancing measures, what a stay at home measures we need to keep in place in order to keep the population from having a spike of COVID-19 infections. My number one consideration is the life, safety and health of the people of our state, and of course I am just as eager as all of those state senators and the president of the United States and everybody else to get everybody back to work, but we’ve got to do it in a fashion that really works for everybody so that we keep customers safe, that we keep workers safe. So I’m going to repeat something I’ve said almost every day; we need widespread testing, and we’re all working on that. No state has widespread testing yet, but we are all working on expanding testing.
Governor Pritzker: (28:16)
We need a comprehensive contact tracing effort, which Massachusetts has begun to stand up, and that’s something that I’ve been in direct contact with not only the governor of Massachusetts about, but also with the people who are actually putting that program together, who I happened to know for many years, an organization called Partners in Health. We’re looking at putting that together for the state of Illinois, so we’ll have both of those in the works. We’ve already talked a lot about testing, so you’ve seen that we’re in the works buying machines and the VTM and everything that’s necessary to make sure that our testing increases, the contact tracing.
Governor Pritzker: (28:53)
Then something that is really dependent upon the researchers and the doctors, and we’re cheering them on in every way that we can, but it’s really up to them. That’s the testing that’s going on right now over certain kinds of treatments that can be given effectively. They have these, what do they call them? Double blind experiments, some of which is going on in Chicago hospitals, I might add, but it’s going on all over the world on things like remdesivir and hydrochloroquine and everything else. Once we have something established that will keep fewer people from going to the hospital and therefore fewer people going into ICU beds and fewer people getting ventilators, then I think those three things working together, testing, tracing, and treatment, those together with widely available PPE will help us to begin to reopen commerce across the state.
Speaker 3: (29:44)
Okay, this is from Tony Arnold at WBZ. In New York. The death toll sharply increased when they decided to count the victims who never tested positive but likely died from it. Are you considering doing the same thing here, and is it possible the state’s death toll is considerably higher?
Governor Pritzker: (30:03)
I’m going to let …
Speaker 6: (30:03)
Date’s death toll is considerably higher.
Gov. Pritzker: (30:03)
I’m going to let Dr. Ezike answer more broadly. I will tell you that it is certainly true that the number of cases of COVID-19 is much higher than what is being tested because we can only test so many people with the number of tests we have. So that’s why we have to assume that many many people have it and that’s why we have a stay at home order in place. And so I think it’s logical to assume that the number of people who have passed away is higher. I don’t know whether I would say much higher, but I will turn it over to Dr. Ezike who’ll give you a more scientific answer to that question.
Dr. Ezike: (30:39)
So for sure as the governor correctly stated, the denominator in terms of the total number of people who have cases is grossly underestimated. We know that because we had limited supply of the testing materials and so then we’re trying to find our highest risk people in terms of, in terms of doing the testing in the first place. But on the death number, I think that one is probably closer to accurate because once you’re in the hospital, that’s definitely a population that would get tested. Like that was one of our prioritized groups, people who are very sick, who are in the hospital, who are ICU, who have pneumonia. So more likely the death numbers are close to actual. Of course some could have been missed if there was no suspicion at all, but in terms of the numbers that are grossly underestimated, it would be the total number of cases for the state.
Dr. Ezike: (31:34)
So the CDC did recently put out the new guidance that we should have a separate column for laboratory confirmed cases and then this second column for probable cases. And so again, most of those probable cases are the people that physicians and public health departments said, yes you are the household contact of so-and-so and this person was laboratory confirmed. Yeah, you probably have it. So we know that those people exist and so it’s just a matter of do we want to increase those numbers? But even that will probably be a gross underestimation if we just put those probables.
Speaker 6: (32:11)
We’ve had a couple Dr. Ezike, folks who say they have been tested, they’re essential workers. This is especially at Roseland hospital and they’re still waiting for the results. They did self-impose a quarantine, but now they have to get back to work. Their employer’s saying, get back to work, what should they do?
Dr. Ezike: (32:29)
So I actually have been in contact I think with the VP of Roseland as recently as today. And so I am working with my team to make sure that all specimens are sent directly to IDPH lab because again, the rapid turnover of the results is essential. And so when people send it out to some of these other locations where there’s an exorbitant amount of time, decisions can’t be made. So we’re working on that as we speak to make sure that we get timely results.
Speaker 6: (32:58)
Gov. Pritzker: (32:58)
And may I add to that because I think this is a important part of the answer as well. There was an article actually this morning about how the commercial labs actually are reporting 30% fewer results than they were before. They’ve had their own issues with processing. And I’ve talked about this before, how it takes seven to 12 days to get a result from one of the commercial labs. It’s the reason partly that we’ve started to build up, not just started, we’ve been doing it for some time now, building up our resources within the state. It’s not just because it’s closer by location because it’s not about driving time or even flying time. It really is about who’s doing the processing and the prioritization of that processing. The people of the state of Illinois deserve to get answers as quickly as possible on their tests. And so our state labs, all of our hospitals are turning around tests in one, two, three days and not seven to 12 days and so that’s why it’s very concerning to me.
Gov. Pritzker: (34:00)
If you remember the criteria for getting tested predominantly is you have symptoms. Now imagine you start with symptoms and you go get a test and seven to 12 days later what can happen to you in those seven to 12 days if you are already exhibiting some symptoms and you actually had COVID-19 it’s almost not worth getting the result back. You already are experiencing all of it and in the hospital and you didn’t need to know at that point. But one or two days in or three days and that is a very helpful result.
Speaker 6: (34:31)
Have you had talks with all of the state’s insurers? Some of those who insure folks auto insurance for instance are offering refunds for our credits because there are definitely fewer claims for auto insurance. Now, are you talking to all of them because not everyone’s doing that?
Gov. Pritzker: (34:50)
You’re right. Not everyone is doing that and the insurance calls that I really was focused on and that I’ve made personally have been to the leaders of our health insurance companies to make sure that they’re covering COVID related expenses. But it’s an excellent point that I know that the large companies, State Farm and Allstate are providing rebates and lowering premiums and so on, which is the right thing to do. And I think we should in fact be communicating with all of our auto insurance companies to ask them to do the same thing. I don’t know which ones that are smaller in the state are doing what you’re describing, but we’ll go find out.
Speaker 6: (35:28)
And freelancers are wondering, are they covered by unemployment if you’re a freelancer?
Gov. Pritzker: (35:33)
If you’re an independent contractor or 10 99 if you qualify as that, which is often what a freelancer is, then you would qualify for this new program that the federal government set up to provide unemployment insurance.
Speaker 6: (35:47)
Parents of course still are wondering about school and then now they’re looking ahead to the summer. Summer camp, do you envision children going to summer camp programs this summer?
Gov. Pritzker: (35:59)
Again, we’re going to make some decisions coming up about what to do about our stay at home order, how we will make adjustments, what needs to remain in place. We still haven’t decided about what to do about schools, we have an April 30 date now and typically schools might end in the first or second week of June. And so decisions need to be made soon to make parents aware and kids aware of what that next month or month and a half might look like. And I think that will begin to give it some indication about the summer. But again we’re speculating, remember everything about this is new and so it’s very difficult to make projections months in advance of something.
Gov. Pritzker: (36:43)
But as a parent of children who have in the past gone to camp, I know all the planning is occurring now and so we’ll try to give some indication if we can. But it’s hard to do I must say that this far in advance.
Speaker 6: (36:59)
Do you think in the next two weeks, the next 10 days?
Gov. Pritzker: (37:03)
Certainly in the next two weeks we’ll be deciding what to do about the April 30 stay at home, the end of the stay at home order that’s currently in place. But I’m not sure that in the next 10 days or two weeks that we’ll be able to give an answer about summer camp.
Speaker 6: (37:18)
Okay, thank you. Those are mine thank you.
Gov. Pritzker: (37:20)
Okay thank you Maria. Any others? Yeah, sorry.
Speaker 7: (37:23)
To that point, the federal government has released some of their guidelines of the plans that they may have in place of what reopening looks like and summer camp is one of the things that they would begin to phase in first. So are you looking at those federal guidelines? And president Trump yesterday said he was going to be speaking with all of the governors maybe Thursday, is there anything on the agenda for tomorrow?
Gov. Pritzker: (37:46)
Yeah, there’s a regular call that occurs. Sometimes the president is on the call, sometimes it’s the president and the vice president. It sounds like the president will be on the call for tomorrow because I heard that as well. As far as the CDC guidelines let me just say that I think Dr. Fauci had it right when he said that testing and contact tracing are going to be vitally important to making any decisions about what opening things looks like, what the future looks like. As I said a little earlier and I completely agree. And so we’ve got to ramp up testing all of us, we’ve got to get that done. Again, we had hoped the federal government would be involved in helping us do that, the contact tracing, again this was a program that’s been put in place or being put in place by one state that looks to me like it will be very effective. And so those are the two things that we’re focusing on. And I think the CDC guidelines are really in many ways dependent upon this widespread testing and contact tracing.
Speaker 7: (38:50)
And I’m sure you saw and heard the group of protesters circling the block downstairs honking and saying, lift the ban. That’s got to be a sign of how rambunctious people are going to get the longer this drags on.
Gov. Pritzker: (39:04)
Yeah. With rent control.
Speaker 7: (39:07)
Well some of them we saying [inaudible 00:39:07] and talking about rent control, right. Just your response to that and-
Gov. Pritzker: (39:10)
The moratorium yeah, so the moratorium on rent control in the state is a state law. It can only be lifted by the state legislature and a vote by the state legislature. I know there are offices for the state legislature here in the Thompson center. I’m not sure there are too many legislators that are here in the building, but it may be that much of that is aimed at them because they’re the ones who have to vote on that if they do so. But that is a state law that’s currently in place and I know that they’re just like anybody who wants a change in state law, I think making their voices heard. Makes sense.
Speaker 7: (39:48)
I’ve just got two more added if you don’t mind.
Gov. Pritzker: (39:48)
Let me get it if you don’t mind-
Speaker 8: (39:50)
[crosstalk 00:39:50] Craig Wall and Dinah and then [crosstalk 00:09:51].
Gov. Pritzker: (39:50)
I’m sorry Craig, I apologize Craig. See you’re hiding yourself.
Speaker 9: (39:54)
Yes I am. A couple things, governor. First of all, your counterpart in New York is now looking at having people wear masks. We’ve seen a couple of local municipalities, mere Lightfoot said she didn’t think today that that was needed, she thinks people are following it. Are you giving any consideration to requiring people to wear masks in public and if so where would that apply?
Gov. Pritzker: (40:16)
First of all, I have given a lot of consideration and I have spoken about that here and indeed recommended to people that they wear masks when they’re out in public or especially when they go to anywhere where they’re going to be with any other group of people, a grocery store, a pharmacy, gas station or anywhere else where they know they’re going to be with others. By the way that doesn’t mitigate the idea that you need to maintain your social distance, to having the mask on is an additional protection. And let me be clear, wearing a mask is protecting everybody else. So you’re doing everybody else a favor or you’re doing the right thing for everybody else in your presence by wearing one. By not wearing one when you’re in public going into a public place or anything like that it’s something you aren’t doing to protect other people.
Gov. Pritzker: (41:09)
So should we require it is really the question you’re suggesting and I have to say and I’ve had this conversation with one of the state reps who on the other side of the aisle who’s been very collaborative and had good ideas. And I think it’s something that when I look at the mitigation measures that we should be contemplating and making adjustments to that is one that I think might be seriously important for us to consider for the period going forward. Look, anything that we can do going forward that that will protect people and at the same time make it more likely that we can have slightly different conditions for stay at home, better conditions is a good move.
Speaker 9: (41:56)
There was some reporting yesterday done about the impact of this on farmers and farmers having to dump milk here in this state. Is there any program underway to help farmers to either do something with their product or get it to food pantry so that it’s not going to waste?
Gov. Pritzker: (42:11)
So a couple things. This is a problem all across the country. Commodities, the prices of commodities have sunk to lows not seen in a while. You’ve heard that about gasoline, you’ve seen it, gasoline and the same with corn, soybeans, which are very important to the economy of the state. So this is a problem across the board and it’s not just a problem for Illinois, it’s a problem for every state. I hope that the federal government is able to step in with either price supports or some kind of farm bill to support farmers in this endeavor.
Gov. Pritzker: (42:49)
And I would love to get some of those goods to support particularly the kids who are on free or reduced lunch who would otherwise be in school getting it but can’t and so the school districts are distributing it. So I would say to any farmer that has the ability to deliver some of that for us. I’ve talked to many of the food manufacturers across the country about donating and many of them have donated goods for use by the school districts in Illinois for low income families and so I would encourage them to contact us. We’d be happy to put them in touch with school districts. Thank you. And yeah, Dana.
Speaker 10: (43:34)
This is a question that I asked you indirectly yesterday, but it’s a followup. It was about a woman who qualified for unemployment benefits, actually went to get certified, got her letter and was told because of an overpayment a couple of years ago that she has 20 penalty weeks and won’t get any benefits for 20 penalty weeks and she can’t get her unemployment stimulus because of it either. Since then we’ve heard of other people in the same predicament. I was told by an IDS spokesperson last night it’s a law by statute that these penalty weeks are levied. So my question to you today following up, which I am doing today is, is there anything you can do on an emergency capacity to potentially discuss deferring those penalty weeks? And if not, because it is a law is there something you can do to urge lawmakers to potentially review this and step in because these are now desperate people?
Gov. Pritzker: (44:27)
Yeah, and I think it’s an important point that as you know, I can’t change the laws that are in place. I have the ability by executive order to make adjustments to regulations and in an emergency to protect people’s lives. And so I would suggest this is a situation that you’re describing that I would very much like to look into the individual cases or have my staff look into the individual cases. I would also suggest that there are other supports that exist that by the state and by the federal government that they’ve recently created. And so to the extent-
J.B. Pritzker: (45:03)
…the federal government that they’ve recently created. And so to the extent someone actually, the law hasn’t been changed, and legislature needs to, we should put on the agenda of the legislature if that’s what’s necessary. And then the other part of this would be that we should look at the other supports that could be provided to these individuals who happen to fall into this. It sounds like a peculiar space that they fall into, and we should be looking for how to rescue them out of that.
Speaker 11: (45:27)
Sir, you [inaudible 00:45:28] followup to this. And then I have two more quick questions. Follow up, so are you suggesting they should reach out specifically to your office? [crosstalk 00:45:35].
Speaker 12: (45:36)
To be clear, just to be clear, like Idea said yesterday, you under law are only given penalty weeks if you are found to have committed some sort of fraud. So, we can’t actually change that law.
J.B. Pritzker: (45:49)
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:45:49] no, but what I was suggesting, though, is that the legislature, to the extent the legislature needs to do that, right. And I don’t know when the legislature is going to meet, or exactly how that’s something they’re discussing now. But it sounds like that might be something that should be on their agenda if it’s something that is not a matter of fraud, but I will say one other thing. We’ve got to make sure that everybody has the ability to maintain support for them and their families no matter who they are, where they are in the state.
Speaker 11: (46:20)
Right. And again, we could talk about whether fraud, or mistake, and [crosstalk 00:46:23] as fraud, right? So, okay. Moving on, a question from my colleague Jim Williams is Illinois accepting technical assistance from the federal government to improve the processing of unemployment claims here, the federal department of labor said it’s offering such help to States.
J.B. Pritzker: (46:40)
Well, the answer is we are receiving the support that the federal government authorized in the CARES Act, and in the Relief Act that came before them. And we have, as I’ve explained, I think, the other day, some of the biggest consulting firms in the world, really, who are helping us expand our ability to be responsive. But I think as you know, many of the large states in the United States are experiencing extraordinary overruns of calls, and sessions online, and so on. And so we’ve had conversations with each other about that problem. And here in Illinois, though, I’m pleased to say that we’re at least attempting heartily to address the challenge that people are having getting through. And I talked about that the other day, so I mean we’ll continue to work on that.
Speaker 11: (47:41)
And finally, very quickly, I’m piggybacking on what Marianne and Liz asked about it. It comes to seniors in particular. Is there any discussion at the state level about alternate graduation dates and that sort of thing for seniors?
J.B. Pritzker: (47:56)
Got it. So, not senior citizens, but yeah. Seniors in high school, and college maybe. There are lots of conversations about that. As you know, our initial focus, I mean, I realize we’re now in the middle of April, and the school year will be ending for people, varyingly, a month from now, a month and a half, or maybe in two months from now. And so we’re beginning to talk about what to do in the event that school doesn’t go back in session. But I will also say that we’ve been focused more on, as you can imagine, more on the challenge of getting e-learning up, and running for all those kids. Even the seniors need to finish out the school year.
J.B. Pritzker: (48:38)
And so that’s been the focus of our education team. But as you’re pointing out, in the last two months here of school, it’s time to start focusing on graduation. And if a decision is made that people can go back to school, then they’ll be able to have their graduation, perhaps not in the normal fashion, but some sort of smaller group fashion. And if the decision is made that we need to extend the stay at home, and really keep people distance more so then we’ll be looking at something that’s radically different than a normal graduation. But we want to make it as best we can, I know how important that time of someone’s life is.
Speaker 11: (49:16)
Okay. We’ll get to questions from online. Governor, last night, President Trump discussed at length the idea of state border checks. Has this been a part of your discussions with Midwest governors, and how practical is it? How would it be conducted? That’s from Shia, at Politico.
J.B. Pritzker: (49:30)
Speaker 11: (49:31)
What must the state do to ramp up broad contact tracing? Will this require hiring people? How will they be trained? How much will this cost? Is this underway? That’s John O’Connor at the AP?
J.B. Pritzker: (49:41)
Yes. I think it’d be helpful, John, you can take a look at the articles that have been written about the Massachusetts collaborative. That’ll give you a sense of what this looks like. But yes, it involves hiring people. It involves good old fashioned shoe leather. That is to say, people are not going to be knocking on doors, but there’ll be using an app which will populate with someone’s spoken contact. This is not a Apple Google app. This is one in which someone who has COVID 19 reveals who their contacts are to someone over the phone, and then that is all populated in an app, and through that app, individuals who are part of the collaborative would have the ability to call the contacts that had been registered to let them know that this person has been diagnosed with COVID 19 and that they should self isolate.
Speaker 11: (50:34)
Rich Miller at Capital Fast asks the upward curve in new cases has slowed, but it hasn’t yet gone down. What are the scientists telling you about finally putting the state on a downward trend?
J.B. Pritzker: (50:47)
It’s an excellent question, and we’re looking at a variety of models. We’re going to talk a little more about this in the next few days, but the answer is that it’s, as you pointed out, it’s climbing. It’s climbing at a lower rate than it had been before. And that’s a very good thing. What the other side of the curve looks like, I think looks very different than what the IHME curve looks like. If you have gone online to look at that curve, not just for Illinois, but for all the rest. It seems like their curve sort of peaks, and then precipitously drops. And I personally, and others that I talked to, don’t think that’s how it’s going to work. You’re working your way up to a peak unfortunately. And then as you come to the other side, it’s going to be a gradual downward slope, not an immediate drop. And so that is another reason why this testing, tracing treatment is so important, and why we can’t do what, I think, President Trump has described, which is a massive opening of a variety of states.
Speaker 11: (51:55)
Dave Doll at WTAX, a leader of a local incident management team in Springfield has said the return to normal would probably be done on a County by County process rather than statewide. What’s the veracity of that?
J.B. Pritzker: (52:09)
I think that, as you know, we left it in the hands of counties and cities, a lot of decisions. The decisions for example about their own city parks, or county parks, and whether to open those. We’ve closed state parks. You heard that the mayor of Chicago closed the Lakefront. There are a variety of places that have made other decisions about things that are not in the executive orders, but things that are in the executive orders are state law, or I should say they’re mandated by executive order, they’re not state law. And so they really can only be removed by the states, and by this state government. And so I would encourage people to look at that, county administrators, and city mayors to determine what it is that they might be able to change if they want to. But the most important thing I hope that they’ll all follow is that we need social distancing. We need people to stay at home.
Speaker 11: (53:07)
This is from Bruce Rushton at the Springfield Times. A local pastor recently complained that he’d been told he couldn’t have a drive in Easter service. He pointed out that marijuana dispensaries are still open. Recreational pot isn’t legal in most states. With that in mind, why are recreational pot sales allowed, and what do you say to the pastor, and business owners who have been forced to close?
J.B. Pritzker: (53:27)
I’m not sure how those are related, but I would say that the advice around drive up, and pick up, and that’s what’s happening in dispensary’s has been that it’s very brief contact and it’s somewhat socially distanced. And so the handoff, just as it is with a drive up, and pick up food, is relatively brief. The problem with a religious service, and I am sympathetic with this because I too would like to worship in the way that we normally do, or even in a drive up circumstance has been that that’s not a a quick endeavor, and the result is that people end up parking very close to each other opening their windows. It’s as if they’re sitting in pews very near to each other. And so it turns out that that is one way to spread COVID 19 and we want to avoid that.
Speaker 11: (54:22)
Molly Parker at the Southern Illinois, and I think is asking about the same letter that Marianne referenced, but I’m going to ask you this question anyway. Senator Shrimp, and others wrote a letter to you requesting a uniform policy that empowers local health departments to make decisions concerning business closures, and openings in their respective counties. What is your response to that proposal?
J.B. Pritzker: (54:41)
We will, from the state executive order perspective, we’re looking at all of our state executive orders, and thinking of the health and safety of everybody in the state no matter where they live. And I of course understand the difference between living in a rural community, and living in an urban community. And no, I really do understand that there are differences. The problem is that a restaurant in a rural community has the same ability to spread COVID 19 as a restaurant in an urban community. So, it’s a challenge to identify the things that are that much different. Having said that, we have tried to make adjustments. You’ve seen, for example, that essential businesses includes virtually everything that’s agriculture related, which is entirely, almost entirely, in rural communities. So, we are thinking about how to make differences between urban, and rural communities, recognize those differences, and let as many people work as possible without endangering people’s lives.
Speaker 11: (55:44)
All right, this’ll be the last question from Rebecca Ansul at Capitol News, Illinois. Do you have any thoughts on the municipal league’s requests to attorney general Raoul, to issue an advisory opinion allowing local governments to delay the fulfillment of FOIA requests until the stay at home order is lifted?
J.B. Pritzker: (55:58)
I don’t really have an opinion about that. I mean we are working hard to try to fulfill FOIA requests. It is hard, I have to admit, with limited staff, with our legal staff constantly working on a, I mean I can’t tell you how hard those folks are working, and those are the folks who review all the FOIA requests and try to fulfill them. So, as I said a few weeks ago, I hope that people will continue to have some patience with us about our delivery of FOIA responses to FOIA requests. But I don’t have an opinion about their request to the attorney general. Can I just say one thing before I conclude? Standing behind me is General Rich Neely of our National Guard. You’ve seen him occasionally with me here and he’s with us today, in part because the National Guard has done such a tremendous job of standing up, and taking over, in some cases for federal government drive through facilities.
J.B. Pritzker: (56:58)
But it is the National Guard that has done not only that, but also when we needed to put in additional capability at one of our prisons, it was the national guard that came in with medical personnel in tents, so that we could treat, and separate people within the prison. And the National Guardsmen have just been outstanding. I mean, you should be so proud. It’s the best National Guard in the entire nation, the Illinois National Guard. We have the best adjuncts in general in the entire nation, and I want to recognize the amazing work that they do. Thank you all very much.