Illinois lawmakers received an update March 5 on the status of the coronavirus (COVID-19) from state Public Health officials who are encouraging the public to help prevent the spread of the virus.
In other action, residents across Illinois will soon begin receiving invitations to fill out the 2020 census forms. This once-every-10-years count of our nation’s population provides critical data that is used to provide resources to communities and determine the number of seats each state will have in Congress.
Also during the week, the Senate approved legislation to let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits, and legislation has been introduced to reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
And March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month.
Officials encourage public to help prevent spread of COVID-19
The Illinois Department of Public Health briefed lawmakers on COVID-19 on March 5, providing an update about what the department is doing to monitor the situation in Illinois.
So far, five patients in Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19. The Illinois Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Cook County Health Department are proactively reaching out to anyone who may have had contact with these individuals to test for the virus.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Currently, the virus has not been found to be spreading widely in the U.S., and the risk to the general public remains low. Residents are encouraged not to alter their daily routines.
However, public health officials are encouraging the public to remain vigilant about keeping germs from spreading. The CDC has some useful tips to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
For more information, visit the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov/COVID19.
Census starting soon
Residents will receive an invitation to respond online to the 2020 census between March 12 and 20. It is important to remember what the census is, and why it is essential.
Mandated by the United States Constitution, the census is a count of the United States population that takes place every ten years.
The 2020 Census will be the 24th census conducted since 1790. Billions of dollars in federal funding goes to schools, hospitals, roads, public safety, and other vital programs each year. Not only is participating in the census required by law, but a complete count is important to ensuring your community has funding for these resources.
This year, for the first time, you can take the census online! Links to census resources, including how to respond and a sample questionnaire, are available on my legislative Web site at https://senatorjiltracy.com/2020-Census.
Let teachers buy back lost retirement benefits
The Senate has approved legislation that would help teachers buy back their pension time if they decide to switch from teaching in a private school to teaching in a public school.
Under current law, when teachers move from private schools to public schools, their years of private teaching don’t count toward their pension benefits. Senate Bill 3027 gives teachers the option of paying into the system to cover both the employee and employer pension contributions for their years of private teaching.
Proponents of the legislation say that with public schools struggling to recruit teachers, this bill provides an incentive for private school teachers to consider taking these positions, helping to reduce teacher shortages at little to no cost to the taxpayers.
Passed by a 55-0 vote, Senate Bill 3027 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Reduce costs for volunteer firefighters and EMTs
New legislation has been introduced in the Senate that aims to support volunteer firefighters and EMTs with expenses they incur as part of the public service they provide their communities.
Senate Bill 3224 creates a $500 tax credit that qualifying volunteer firefighters and EMTs can claim when they file their Illinois income taxes. Because it is a credit and not a deduction, it will provide a direct reduction in the amount of taxes owed, and could potentially increase their tax refunds.
Supporters of the measure note that volunteer firefighters and EMTs put their lives on the line to serve their communities. However, as volunteers, they often have to pay out of pocket for training costs and some equipment.
This legislation would help volunteer firefighters and EMTs pay for expenses that often includes things such as medical and fire equipment, training, licensure, and even insurance. Supporters hope that by reducing the financial burden of volunteering, the legislation can help local fire departments to recruit new volunteers to bolster their efforts at protecting the public.
March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month
With spring just round the corner, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is highlighting the importance of being properly prepared for severe weather during Severe Weather Preparedness Month.
In partnership with the National Weather Service, IEMA is underscoring the importance of having more than one way to receive emergency alerts and notifications. Illinois residents are encouraged to have a radio that can be programmed to receive alerts for specified counties, like a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration All Hazards Weather Radio with a battery backup. If an alert is issued for your area, the radio will sound the alarm and provide critical safety information.
Another resource is a free app offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that provides notifications and updated information about severe weather when you’re on the go. The app can also help you locate resources near you in the event of an emergency.
For more information about what to do before, during and after a storm, please visit www.Ready.Illinois.gov.