COVID-19 Disaster Declarations to End May 11
Gov. JB Pritzker announced this week that he will be ending his continued COVID-19 disaster declarations on May 11, 2023. This announcement coincides with the decision by the White House to end the federal emergency declarations on that date.
Illinois’ disaster declaration has been in place since March 9, 2020. Since then, the Governor has issued the disaster declaration every 30 days, which has allowed him to order arbitrary state-wide mandates and restrictions at his discretion—bypassing legislative input and oversight.
Illinois remains one of only eight states that still have a disaster declaration in place, and it’s the only state in the Midwest currently under a declared state of emergency.
Over the past three years, the Governor used the disaster declaration to impose restrictions such as forcing businesses and schools to close and mandating the use of masks in public.
While Senator Bennett is pleased that the emergency declarations will finally come to an end, he is still critical of how long the declarations lasted, adding that the Governor has been abusing his executive powers.
Illinois Unemployment Rate Continues to Trail the Nation
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released its December unemployment statistics, and Illinois remains among the worst in the nation with an unemployment rate at 4.7%. The only state with a higher rate than Illinois was Nevada.
In December, Illinois’ 4.7% unemployment rate meant that at that time 303,000 Illinoisans were unemployed. This rate is higher than its neighboring states, where the highest rate is 4.3% in Michigan and the lowest is 2.8% in Missouri. Additionally, Illinois’ unemployment rate stands significantly higher than the national average rate of 3.5%.
While Illinois’ December rate still shows a 0.4% decrease in the unemployment rate from December 2021, it still marks a trend of slight increase over the past few months. In 2022, unemployment had been slowly decreasing in the first half of the year, but from August 2022 on, the data showed a steady increase for the first time since April 2020.
State Employee Retirees Notified of Tax Withholding Mistake
In an email notification, state retirees were informed that their January pension checks were accidentally increased this month, as the State Employee Retirement System (SERS) failed to withhold the correct amount for federal taxes. Currently, SERS is leaving it to the retirees to correct this mistake but has offered a FAQ document on its website to help address concerns and questions.
In the SERS pension plan, withholding is used to withdraw a set amount of money from each paycheck or retirement pension that is used toward paying taxes. Thus, if a month is skipped, the annual amount withheld will be less than what taxpayers set for themselves. This means that state retirees will end up having to either pay more in taxes or receive a lower tax return when they file their taxes.
Despite this mistake, SERS will not be withholding any additional taxes in February that might compensate for the January error. They are recommending that state retirees either set aside the amount that should have been withheld from their January check personally, submit a modified W-4P form that will authorize SERS to withhold additional federal tax from future months, or contact a tax advisor to come up with another solution. In order to find out how much should have been withheld in January, retirees can check through their SERS Member Services account. Furthermore, SERS cautions that any changes in withholding may not take effect until March.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $1,331,732,141 in unpaid bills to state vendors, including 16,292 ending vouchers. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be more than $139 billion.
Did You Know?
This week, weather watchers were waiting to see whether or not Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog, would leave his hole and see his shadow.
The February 2nd holiday has become a popular time to watch the 1993 classic film Groundhog Day. While that movie is set in Phil’s hometown of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it was actually filmed mostly in Woodstock, Illinois. Because of the history of the film, the town has an entire festival during the week of Groundhog Day, including walking tours of filming sites. This year, the festival runs through February 5th. You can find out more information at: https://woodstockgroundhog.org/
As for the real groundhog and his 2023 prediction, he was reported to have seen his shadow, which legend says means 6 more weeks of winter.
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