SPRINGFIELD – Legislators continued their work at the Capitol as Senate Republicans started the week with a press conference to advocate for various bills that emphasize the fentanyl epidemic and justice for crime victims.
As budget discussions ramp up, a new estimate was recently highlighted for a program that is ballooning higher than anticipated. The Health Benefits for Immigrant Adults and Seniors, which provides free healthcare for undocumented immigrants, is expected to cost Illinois taxpayers a whopping $1 billion.
Also, as the May 10 deadline for the Back to Business grant applications approaches, State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) has partnered with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to provide an informational webinar for businesses with questions regarding the application process.
Senate Republicans put crime victims first
Recent public policy has too often prioritized criminals rather than focusing on bringing justice to the victims, said Tracy. Senate Republicans stood together at a press conference on April 24 to put justice for crime victims front and center.
The Senators highlighted several policy responses aimed at reducing fentanyl deaths and protecting victims of domestic abuse, drunk driving, and childcare center threats. The legislation includes:
Senate Bill 73: Increases the charge of unlawfully selling or dispensing any drug containing fentanyl to a Class X felony that would face no less than 9 to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
House Bill 3203: Expands the availability of fentanyl test strips by allowing them to be sold over the counter and enables county health departments to provide them for free.
Senate Bill 1086: Changes cause of death from fentanyl overdose to fentanyl poisoning to reduce the stigma surrounding fentanyl deaths.
Senate Bill 1976: Creates the charge of Domestic Assault, making it easier for police officers to go after domestic offenders who knowingly place any household member in fear of serious harm. It also ensures that defendants released from custody ahead of trial will be ordered to refrain from contacting their victims or entering their residences for a minimum of 72 hours.
Senate Bill 1974: Increases a Domestic Battery charge to Aggravated Domestic Battery when the act of violence is committed against someone 60 years or older.
Senate Bill 1405: Creates a blended sentencing provision for aggravated driving under the influence where an accident kills one person and inflicts great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to one person or more.
Senate Bill 1968: Puts daycare facilities in line with schools by making it a felony to threaten a childcare institution or daycare center building or threaten violence, death, or bodily harm directed against someone at one of these facilities.
Tracy says these proposals work to support those impacted by crime in ways that are not covered in current legislation. She says victims must be heard, and these bills go a long way to helping achieve that justice.
Undocumented healthcare program breaks budget
A recent news article has reported on a glaring budget liability heading into the new fiscal year as a program that provides free healthcare for undocumented immigrants has ballooned out of control to the tune of $1 billion.
In 2020, Illinois implemented the Health Benefits for Immigrant Adults and Seniors, a program that gave Medicaid-type coverage for non-citizens 65 years or older. Since then, the program has expanded to include those 42 and older.
In its first fiscal year, the program exceeded its entire year’s appropriation within the first month of implementation. This trend has only increased. Currently, FY23 spending is estimated to be $567.6 million, over three times the budgeted amount of $150 million. The disparity between budgeted and actual spending is expected to continue as the state is now projecting a total cost next fiscal year of $990 million, leaving a program deficit of $770 million.
Illinois taxpayers are completely on the hook for this program as there is no matching federal funding like there is for Medicaid since it covers noncitizens. Tracy criticized the program saying the state’s priorities are backwards. She points to the fact that the state has failed some of its most vulnerable citizens, such as largely underfunding services to the developmentally disabled by over half a billion dollars over three years.
Online Back to Business Webinar May 3
Applications are currently open on the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website for the Back to Business (B2B) program. Through this program, the state of Illinois is offering $175 million in recovery grants for businesses in three select categories that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Restaurants, hotels, and creative arts organizations are all able to submit applications from now until May 10.
In total, $75 million will be available for the hotel grants, while $50 million will be available for restaurants and creative arts organizations respectively. Grants are wide ranging, from $5,000 to $50,000 for restaurants, up to $1,500 per room for hotels, and $5,000 to $250,000 for creative arts organizations. More information about the program and the exact requirements to apply for the grants can be found on the DCEO’s website.
To assist business owners with the application process and to answer questions regarding qualifications, Tracy is partnering with DCEO to host a Back to Business online webinar on Wednesday, May 3 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Representatives from DCEO will be on hand to provide information and to guide business owners through the application process. To participate in the webinar, registration is required. Please email your name, as well as your business name, address, and phone number to RSVP@sgop.ilga.gov. Upon RSVP, participants will receive a link to the online webinar.