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Sunday, May 16, 2021

‘Just an impossibility’ to provide date for relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, Pritzker says

Illinois hotel industry looking for taxpayer grants in recovery while others call for reopening

(The Center Square) – Illinois’ business community is looking for clarity, or even for a date certain, of when they can get their operations back up and running more fully, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker says COVID-19 won’t let him do that.

Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association President Michael Jacobson Thursday told Illinois state lawmakers the industry is looking for a two-fold plan he said will help the industry rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One part of the plan is to follow other states and provide limited liability protections for businesses that follow COVID-19 mitigation.

“We have already heard from meeting planners who have expressed worry about holding their events in our state without such protections and we are concerned that this will convince them to move their meeting to another state,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson also urged for $250 million of the $7.5 billion the state is set to get from federal funds for one-time grants to hotels that open so they can pay their employees.

“We agree that additional financial relief for small businesses will play an important role in getting the tourism industry back on track, and we look forward to continued collaborative discussions with the General Assembly as well as industry groups on plans to leverage federal stimulus for additional business recovery programs,” said Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokesperson Lauren Huffman. “At the same time we remain laser focused on making progress toward key health metrics that will enable tourism, tourism business and closely related businesses to return.” 

State Rep. Paul Jacobs, R-Carbondale, said that could help, but the governor needs to reopen the economy.

“I don’t care what party we are, we all have to get it open,” Jacobs said. “You’re not going to have any income coming in for the state, no revenue, or for the restaurants, bars, hotels, etcetera until you get it open.”

Current orders limit gatherings to 50 people or fewer.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s Rob Karr said there still needs to be more clarity on the governor’s bridge plan. He said there’s confusion about how vaccinated people impact capacity percentages.

“We need to maximize our businesses,” Karr said. “The theory that you’re open and you’re doing ok is just not accurate. No one’s businesses were built to survive at 50% or even 75% occupancy.”

Other business groups said while they understand monitoring COVID-19 hospitalization numbers, a date certain for relaxing the orders would be appreciated, especially with more people getting vaccinated.

Pritzker on Friday wouldn’t do that.

“I know that you’re trying to pin me down for a date and then I want to turn around and ask the virus what date we can open up and it’s just an impossibility,” Pritzker said.

For more than a year, Illinois has been under a mix of varying degrees of COVID-19 restrictions put on through executive actions the governor says are meant to slow the spread of the virus. The legislature has mostly been hands-off. Pritzker’s orders are being challenged in the courts.

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