Originally published in Journal & Topics, December 4, 2020. 

Niles Chamber of Commerce officials will host a legislative roundtable with federal, state, county, and local leaders next week bringing together local political representatives and businesses struggling with COVID-19 related shutdowns and restrictions.

The event, scheduled via Zoom at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, will feature U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th) and Brad Schneider (D-10th), State Sen. Ram Villivalam (D-8th), Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-9th) and Niles Mayor Andrew Przybylo. 

Niles Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Alicia Bermes said, after short introductions, the meeting would be broken up into virtual breakout rooms, with each elected official rotating through for between 15 and 20 minutes each.

Depending on turnout, Bermes said breakout rooms could be divided by industry, allowing more industry-specific one-on-one time for questions and answers with elected leaders.

Illinois is in what is called Tier 3 of COVID-19 mitigation measures restricting the size of gatherings and restricting restaurants to outdoor dining only, which may be in tents. Those restrictions have hampered or even closed some businesses. Last weekend, Omega Restaurant on Golf Road in Niles temporarily shut down for three months because of restrictions and the pandemic.

Niles’ seven-day rolling COVID-19 positivity rate has seen a recent drop, falling from 9.1% on Saturday, Nov. 21 to 5.4% on Monday, Nov. 30, according to a dashboard of Illinois Dept. of Health data maintained by Northwestern University. Gov. JB Pritzker and state health officials warn Thanksgiving holiday gatherings could lead to another spike in cases. 

Bermes said there is frustration within the business community over a lack of federal aid. She said there is excitement that a COVID-19 vaccine seems to be on the horizon, but said local business leaders are very aware it will take time to roll the vaccine out. She said there is a great deal of uncertainty about the next few months.

Bermes said the state’s Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program and Niles’ Small Business Recovery Loan Program along with questions about Cook County property taxes would likely be raised and addressed by lawmakers.

Silvestri said the Cook County Board unanimously waived late fees on property tax payments for three months on taxes due in March 2021 at the county’s Nov. 19 meeting. County officials also waived late fees for 60 days on tax bills due last August. Silvestri said he would discuss other county aid programs available to businesses.

Speaking with the Journal last month, Villivalam said the state BIG program had awarded $1.5 million in aid to more than 50 businesses in the 8th State Senate District.

Villivalam encouraged businesses to apply for the aid, saying the state Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is offering grants in waves with some set aside for specific industries including restaurants, retail and hospitality. 

The Niles Small Business Recovery Program loan program has a half-million dollars set aside for loans primarily aimed at qualified restaurants. Bermes said she believes nine or 10 businesses have applied for the program.

 

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