SPRINGFIELD – Federally Qualified Health Centers in Illinois and other health facilities that have been on the front lines in the state’s battle against COVID-19 are in line to receive $140 million in grants to help them maintain operations.
Gov. JB Pritzker made that announcement Friday during a news conference at one such clinic, the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago.
“Our state is among the best in class when it comes to fighting COVID-19 because we’ve put people first, and our health care providers have had a key role in making that possible,” Pritzker said. “But for many providers, that work has come at a significant financial cost, from maintaining payroll to spending extra on personal protective equipment, to taking extra precautions in ambulance services for COVID-positive individuals.”
“In short, we’re giving direct dollars to our direct responders,” he added.
Federally Qualified Health Centers, or FQHCs, have accounted for a large part of the state’s COVID-19 testing program where tests are available free of charge, regardless of a person’s ability to pay or citizenship status.
In addition to FQHCs, Pritzker said grants will also go to safety-net hospitals and long-term care facilities. In addition, he said, the state plans to launch a web portal next week to allow smaller health care providers to apply for funding.
David Ernesto Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown Health, said that health center saw a 70 percent drop in its in-person visits due to the stay-at-home order that was in place during the early months of the pandemic. And while he said that was necessary to control the spread of the disease, it cut deeply into the clinic’s regular revenue stream, although some of that loss was offset by a state rule that allowed them to bill for telehealth services.
Funding for the grants comes from aid the state has received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, which Congress passed in March.
Theresa Eagleson, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, said the delay in disbursing the money was due largely to the need to comply with federal restrictions on how the money is used. She also noted that 60 percent of the money will be targeted in areas that have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement of the grants came on a day when the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 2,514 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, along with an additional 25 confirmed virus-related deaths over the previous 24 hours. That brought the statewide totals to 283,885 cases and 8,563 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Laboratories reported processing 69,793 tests over the previous 24 hours, which made for a single-day positivity rate of 3.6 percent. The seven-day rolling average positivity rate rose a tenth of a percentage point to 3.6 percent.
As of Thursday night, 1,637 people in Illinois were reported hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 371 patients were in intensive care units, and 124 of those patients with COVID-19 were on ventilators.
IDPH also reported Friday that 17 counties in Illinois are at the warning level for a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, down from 24 counties a week ago. A county enters the warning level when it crosses a threshold in two or more indicators of an increase in disease spread.
The counties currently at that level are Bond, Boone, Cass, Christian, Clinton, Crawford, DeWitt, Fayette, Grundy, Hamilton, Macon, Menard, Peoria, Putnam, Washington, Wayne, and Winnebago.
Also during the news conference, Pritzker spoke about news that had just broken that a federal judge in California had blocked the Trump administration’s effort to end early the door-to-door head counting for the 2020 U.S. Census. Trump had ordered that the census count end next week, on Sept. 30, but barring any reversal of the decision by a higher court, the head count will continue through Oct. 31.
Pritzker urged anyone who hasn’t yet filled out the census to do so online at my2020census.gov.
He also took a number of questions regarding the proposed constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot that would allow Illinois to levy a graduated income tax.
Earlier in the day, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, and Deputy Leader Tom Demmer, of Dixon, held a virtual news conference accusing the Pritzker administration of threatening a massive tax increase across the board if voters do not approve the amendment. That was based on comments that Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton had made the previous day, but Pritzker said Republicans were taking those comments out of context.
Pritzker repeated the argument he has often made that the state of Illinois was suffering from a structural budget deficit, even before the pandemic, and he said there are only a certain number of ways to address that.
One, he said, would be to raise the current flat rate by a full percentage point, to 5.9 percent. Another would be to cut state spending by 15 percent across the board, which he said would result in large property tax increases statewide to fund public schools.
The third choice, he said, is the proposed amendment that would raise taxes on people earning more than $250,000, about 3 percent of the state’s population, while leaving tax rates the same or cutting them for the other 97 percent.
“And the best direction that we should go to deal with this is to make sure that we're asking those who are most able to step up to pay to do so – those are the wealthiest in our state … and that's the direction that I think we ought to go. And that's what the lieutenant governor was talking about.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.