Underwood, Oberweis clash on when to reopen

  • Sugar Grove Republican Jim Oberweis is challenging Naperville Democrat Lauren Underwood for her seat in Congress.

    Sugar Grove Republican Jim Oberweis is challenging Naperville Democrat Lauren Underwood for her seat in Congress.

Updated 4/23/2020 11:05 PM

The contrasting views of the 14th Congressional District candidates on how ready the country is to reopen became clear Thursday as Congress approved another COVID-19 relief package.

Incumbent Lauren Underwood, a Naperville Democrat, voted in support of the $484 billion plan. It includes more funding to support payroll and essential business expenses with language more targeting operations with fewer than 500 employees. Farmers will be eligible for disaster loans and grants. The legislation also includes more cash for hospitals and increased virus testing.


In an interview before the vote, Underwood said testing everyone who wants a test is crucial for reopening the full economy.

"Any effort to reopen businesses will require a sustained ability to offer testing to workers," Underwood said. "We are so far from that today. A sustained, safe reopening of the American economy is something we have to get right the first time. Otherwise, we set small businesses up for failure.

"I believe the current level of mitigation has worked," she said. "I take the public health approach that the safest approach is to encourage everyone to stay at home. If they have a job that doesn't lend itself to working from home, then we must ensure those workers, like our police and firefighters, have all the necessary personal protective equipment."

Those ideas are embodied in the Reopen America Act, which she supports. The act sets a goal of lowering the transmission rate of the virus to less than 1 -- referring to the number of people a single person with the disease will infect -- before reopening the economy.

In comments on Monday, Republican challenger Jim Oberweis, a state senator from Sugar Grove, said Illinois should start reopening in May. His plan would begin with opening state parks, golf courses, garden centers and restaurants -- but with social distancing rules. Barbers and hair salons would follow. Hospitals with unused capacity should resume providing nonemergency services.

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Pritzker on Thursday extended Illinois' stay-at-home order to May 30, loosening the restrictions on businesses starting May 1. Notably, animal grooming operations along with greenhouses, gardening centers and nurseries are being allowed to reopen. Retail stores are being allowed to operate delivery and pickup services as well. And he's allowing state parks and golf courses to reopen "under strict safety guidelines." Plus hospitals could start performing surgeries again under "exact specifications" aimed at ensuring capacity for COVID-19 patients.

"We cannot keep the economy closed indefinitely," Oberweis said. "It is up to state leaders to develop a safe and common-sense approach for reopening their respective states. We can protect our citizens while also moving toward putting America back to work. The goal should be a return to normal life. It may take a while to get there, but the time to start that process is upon us."

Oberweis said he's worried about the additional debt created by all the relief packages, but he supports federal assistance for small businesses.

"It is critical for these businesses to be able to reopen once we are through this public health crisis," Oberweis said. "Long-term, putting people back to work is the solution we need."


Underwood also said she supports additional funding for state and local governments and more payments to individuals like the $1,200 checks area residents are now receiving. There is no money for any of that in the package approved Thursday.

Those elements will be a key part of the negotiations for a CARES Act 2, Underwood said. Congress must hurry because local mayors told her they will make cuts to local police and fire services June 1 if federal funding doesn't offset the loss of sales taxes.

She said the state also needs federal assistance. That's in contrast to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement that Illinois should file for bankruptcy instead of getting a no-strings-attached federal bailout of its underfunded pensions.

"Sen. McConnell's words were completely ridiculous, and I don't support that sentiment at all," Underwood said.

Oberweis said using federal funds to bail out Illinois' pensions is "an absurd request." Pension reforms and spending cuts is the only answer to that problem, he said.

The sprawling 14th District includes parts of DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.

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