FILE - Gov. J.B. Pritzker, 6-24-20

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to a question at a news conference Wednesday.

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently authorized $60 million dollars in emergency grants for 3,500 hard-hit Illinois businesses, but a business group said the state’s minimum wage increase could impede recovery.

Mark Grant, Illinois director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said restaurants and bars are among those that will be eligible for the emergency grants.

"We were encouraged to hear that Illinois will be using $60 million of its CARES Act money to provide Business Interruption Grants (BIG) to help 3,500 small businesses hardest hit from the extended shutdown," he said.

Grant said the relief comes at the same time as a scheduled boost in the Illinois minimum wage – a move that Grant and his members urged the governor and General Assembly to postpone.

The minimum wage in Illinois increased from $9.25 to $10 an hour on July 1. In his election campaign, Pritzker pledged to raise Illinois’ minimum wage in increments until it hits $15 an hour. As soon as he took office in January 2019, lawmakers passed legislation that Pritzker signed to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $9.25. On Jan. 1, 2021, the Illinois minimum wage is set to rise again to $11 an hour.

As the COVID 19 shutdown continues to wreak havoc on Illinois’ economy, Grant said the July 1 hike in Illinois' minimum wage does not make sense. Illinois’ small businesses can’t afford Gov. Pritzker's minimum wage hike in this economic climate and it puts a damper on new hiring, Grant said.

Grant and his members were unsuccessful in their attempts to convince the governor and the Legislature to postpone the July 2020 increase from $9.25 an hour to $10.

Raising the minimum wage for entry-level employees means that business owners must give all employees a raise as well, Grant said. He argues that with many workers still furloughed and with companies still trying to figure out how to reopen, now is a terrible time to burden businesses with a mandated wage increase.

Grant said his members are relieved that the governor finally moved Illinois to Phase 4 of the reopening process on June 26. He is telling his members to contact one of Illinois' 40 Small Business Development Centers for help in applying for the new BIG funding.

Another issue on Illinois small business owner’s minds is state protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) believes that businesses following the rules and doing everything in their power to protect the health and safety of their customers and their employees should receive liability protection.

Grant said the NFIB will continue to lobby the governor and the General Assembly to give businesses protection from frivolous lawsuits that try to exploit the pandemic.