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Update from the Capitol: New Mask Guidelines

Friday, August 28, 2020 - Posted 11:23:12 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett

New mask guidelines for patrons of bars and restaurants

In recent weeks we have seen the number of coronavirus cases increase throughout Illinois, including in our area and other parts of downstate. Counties in the Metro-East area near St. Louis were recently moved into a higher level of restrictions because of the spread, and this week Will and Kankakee counties also had additional restrictions put upon them by the state. We need to act in our area to prevent the illness from continuing its spread.

Restaurant_mask.pngAs of Wednesday, there are new guidelines in effect for bars and restaurants in Illinois to protect their employees and to keep them from becoming infected and then spreading the illness to their customers. Face coverings must now be worn by all patrons of bars and restaurants in Illinois during any interaction with wait staff, food service workers or other employees.  The coverings must be worn over the nose and mouth when employees are taking orders, delivering food or otherwise servicing your table. This guidance applies not just to restaurants but all dining establishments, including food service areas in museums and entertainment venues.

You can review the full guidelines by clicking here.

Emergency mortgage assistance available

Illinois mortgage holders have been hard hit by the pandemic, with lost jobs or reductions in income making it hard to make those monthly payments. Now the state has opened applications for an Emergency Mortgage Assistance (EMA) program through the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Grants of up to $15,000 will be made available for those who lost income due to the pandemic and who meet the income eligibility standards.

IHDA expects as many as 10,000 Illinois homeowners to receive assistance through the program before the end of this year. Those who are approved will have the grant paid directly to their mortgage servicer to cover any past-due or forbearance balance, as well as future mortgage payments through the end of the year. Repayment will not be required.

Click here to find out more or apply online at

New area code coming to parts of Ford and Vermilion counties

Back in 2006 the Illinois Commerce Commission took action to prepare for the day when the existing 217 area code ran out of new phone numbers. The 217 area code covers most of central Illinois, reaching across the state from Quincy through Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and into parts of our district.

Now we are reaching the point where the supply of phone numbers is becoming exhausted, and so next spring we will see the overlay of a new 447 area code in our area. Nobody will be required to change their phone number, but new phone numbers issued after next March may have a 447 area code. In the meantime, starting this weekend, residents making phone calls in the 217 area code will be able to complete the call using seven digits or ten (area code plus the number).

Local calls will remain local calls, and the price of a call, as well as the coverage area or other rates and services will be unchanged. Services like 911 will stay the same. You can read more about the upcoming change from Illinois Commerce Commission.

Heart_House.pngThis month's pay raise donation

This month I donated my legislative pay raise to Heart House in Eureka. I appreciate the work that Executive Director Brandi Gerber and Brenna Taufer do.

Heart House has been in service since 1982 providing emergency shelter to women and children in crisis situations in Woodford County. They also provide financial aid and education, as well as community and resource referrals. I am proud to support this worthy cause which does so much to help those in our district.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,482,609,689 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.4 billion. 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 $137 billion.

More news from around the state

The latest update from the Department of Public Health

Driver licenses for those over 75 to be extended for one year

IHSA announces no state tournaments will be held this fall

ISBE releases data showing second consecutive year of increases in kindergarten readiness

How Illinois universities are handling coronavirus testing

For additional helpful resources, click here.

For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: or my website at and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at

My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).