Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2012

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

A spokesman for a Champaign clinic helping those with little to no insurance sees Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a positive, helping 30-to-50 million people across the country.

But Ben Mueller says Avicenna Community Health Center will still likely see dozens of patients who are undocumented immigrants.

Mueller serves as director of outreach and partnerships for the facility managed by the Central Illinois Mosque. He expects free clinics and hospital emergency rooms to stay in demand until more federal efforts to help immigrants are in place.

Mueller notes President Barack Obama is developing ways to address that, citing the recent order that young people from overseas without criminal records would be exempt from deportation.

"We're in a political year, and the election could bring a whole set of policies," he said. "It's conceivable in the future that legislation such as the Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship. And there's other implications for immigration reform that may provide some relief for persons who do not have health insurance that are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act."

Mueller says there's a lot hinging on policies tied to the Affordable Care Act. He says Medicaid rolls in Champaign County alone have grown from nearly 24-thousand in 2006, to 33-thousand last year.

Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to expand the Medicaid rolls with the high court's ruling, relying on federal assistance.

The Supreme Court's decision also brings to question how it will impact small businesses.

Steven Banke with the Chicago-based Small Business Advocacy Council favors health care co-ops over the exchanges that most states, Including Illinois, have yet to organize.

Benke, who chairs that group's health care committee, says that idea would bring much-needed competition to the market.

He says the difference between the two is a little complicated. Banke compares a health care exchange to the foundation of a building, while a co-op and its insurance companies, are the tenants.

"It's a type of risk-bearing entity or insurance company if you will," he said. "And it will operate on the exchange alongside of all the carriers. So we will be one of those carriers, if you will, that will show up on the exchange, and people will see us right next to Blue Cross, Aetna, United Health Care, and so forth."

Banke says one of the biggest challenges for him to provide coverage to a small office is that no one program size fits all.

He's hoping the exchange or co-op will allow them to get whatever type of health care they need.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2012

Supporters of Flex-n-Gate Unionization Rally at U of I Campus

Supporters of Flex-n-Gate Unionization Rally at U of I Campus

A rally protesting labor conditions at Urbana-based Flex-n-Gate --- and supporting a union's effort to organize workers there --- drew about 30 people on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday.

Flex-n-Gate owner and CEO Shahid Khan is a U of I alumnus and benefactor, whose donations paid for a new addition to Huff Hall. Rally organizers gathered outside the Khan Annex to accuse the industrialist of allowing unsafe working conditions at his non-union plants --- including the Flex-n-Gate Guardian West plant in Urbana.

Stephanie Seawell of the Graduate Employees Organization told rally participants holding homemade signs that the U of I plans to give Khan its Alumni Achievement Award at next month's commencement ceremonies.

"This university, the University of Illinois, is going to give an award, a prestigious alumni award, to a man who poisons his employees, doesn't give them the right protective gear, and when they say, 'hey that isn't fair' tries to get them kicked out of the housing that they live in," Seawell said.

Members of union locals and student groups at the rally accuse Flex-n-Gate of forcing workers to handle hexavalent chromium --- widely regarded as a carcinogen --- without property safety equipment. Flex-n-Gate has stated in the past that all its facilities, including Guardian West, meet or surpass federal environmental and safety standards.

The United Auto Workers union is trying to organize at non-union Flex-n-Gate plants, including the one in Urbana. Thursday's rally at the U of I was tied to a UAW rally in New York City.

Categories: Business, Education, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 23, 2012

Hospital Offers Employees Incentives to Stay Healthy

Carle Spokesman Sean Williams works out on the treadmill in his department.

A growing number of companies across the country have started encouraging employees to stay healthy by offering financial incentives. Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is one of the largest employers in the area, is pushing for a healthier workforce through its Charge Rewards Program. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on how it works.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Business, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2012

Dow Chemical To Close Charleston Plant In Cost Reduction Move

The Dow Chemical Co. plans to close its plant in Charleston, Illinois --- one of four facilities being closed down in response to weak demand for the company's products in Europe.

The Charleston plant makes Styrofoam Brant building insulation. Dow spokesperson Rebecca Bentley said its closure is slated for the third quarter of this year. About 30 jobs are being eliminated.

Michigan-based Dow is also closing Styrofoam plants plants in Portugal and Hungary, and another plant in Brazil. In addition, Dow is idling a plant in the Nederlands. In all, about 900 Dow employees around the world will lose their jobs.

Dow Chemical said Monday that the positions will be cut as part of a plan to trim costs by about $250 dollars each year.

Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said the company made the decision to adapt to a volatile economy, especially in western Europe.

Dow said it will book a first-quarter charge of $350 million for severance packages, asset impairments and other items related to its cost-cutting plan.

Categories: Business, Politics
Tags: business, labor

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2012

Indiana Lottery Watching Illinois’ Online Sales

Indiana lottery officials are keeping their eye on an Illinois effort to sell lottery tickets online.

The Hoosier Lottery hasn't started formally looking at online sales. But spokesman Al Larsen tells The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/GXns7K ) that they'll consider it depending on how the program in Illinois works out.

Illinois began online sales on Sunday of tickets for the multistate Mega Millions game and its state lottery. It's the first state to try an online program.

The system in Illinois sets up a direct deposit account for players with winnings of less than $600. Those who win more than that will receive email notification that they've won. Players will also be able to set up subscriptions for automatic wagers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2012

Illinois to Begin Online Lotto Sales Sunday

As Illlinois adults sip their coffee and unfold their newspapers early Sunday morning, state officials say they can also become some of the first people in the country to buy lottery tickets online.

Illinois will become what lotto officials say is the first state in the U.S. to sell tickets over the Internet when the high-security website goes live around 7 a.m. Sunday. Online players will be able to buy up to $10 worth of Lotto or Mega Millions tickets, and state lawmakers are already considering whether to add Powerball into the mix.

The Illinois Lottery estimates e-ticket sales could net hundreds of thousands of new players, and bring in between $78 million and $118 million in new revenue for the cash-strapped state, half of which would fund capital projects. State lawmakers signed off on the online pilot program in 2009, but implementation had been held up pending legal approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which finally came in December.

In Illinois, where lotto tickets must be bought at a licensed retailer, the plan hasn't been without controversy. Some retail groups have worried that online lottery sales, which they say account for up to 50 percent of revenue at some convenience stores, would take a huge bite out of their in-store business. And anti-gambling advocates complain Internet ticket sales could tempt addicts and underage buyers.

But Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said the system is secure, and require would-be gamblers to turn over their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and credit card information before they click "buy."

"But there's also the psychological protection that if you attempt to circumvent our rules by playing underage, or playing from outside the state, and you win, we do a winner validation for any prize over $600," Jones said Friday. "And we won't pay you."

Meanwhile, retailers and convenience store owners have been in talks with Jones and Northstar Lottery Group, the private company that runs the Illinois lotto. The store owners had been pushing for a bump in their five percent commission rate to offset a feared drop in in-person ticket sales, as well as a plan to require that online tickets be purchased exclusively using designated debit cards that could only be bought and recharged at brick-and-mortar stores.

But business groups seem to have quieted down after striking a deal to require that Illinois study the effects of online ticket sales on retailers, and the viability of the debit card idea. That plan will be tacked onto the bill that would add Powerball to the Internet pilot program. The amendment is designed to "lift the opposition that the convenience store owners have had," and will likely be introduced next week, according to the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Retailers say they have a symbiotic relationship with the Illinois Lotto. But they're staying vigilant.

"These concerns are not going away, but at least we now - I shouldn't say 'at least' - we now have - or will have - a mechanism to determine whether our concerns play out," said David Vite, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents 5,100 convenience stores across the state.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2012

Dart Container Buying Solo Cup for $1 Billion

Michigan-based Dart Container Corporation is purchasing Solo Cup Company.

The roughly $1-billion transaction was announced Thursday morning.

The Lake Forest, Illinois manufacturer of plastic cups, plates, bowls, and soufflé cups employs 600 people at its 269,000 square foot facility in Urbana.

Solo spokeswoman Angie Gorman said it is too early to say what the purchase means for the Urbana plant.

"It's premature to speculate on facilities and employment, but a lot of that planning will come soon," Gorman said.

Dart said the close of the sale will take up to six months, and no changes are expected for 6-to-12 months after that.

"We're planning to bring as many Solo employees as possible into the operation," Gorman said.

Dart makes more than 600 products, including foam cups. According to the company, the addition of Solo will broaden its product lineup and the kinds of materials they are made from.

The one change she does confirm is the company name. Gorman said the plant will become part of Dart Container Corporation, but certain products, including Solo's red cups, will maintain the Solo brand.

Solo makes the well-known red Solo cups and a variety of disposable food and drink containers out of paper, plastic and recycled materials. Solo was founded in 1936 as a paper container company and introduced its signature red plastic cup in the 1970s.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2012

Indiana Governor Signs Smoking Ban into Law

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Indiana's governor Monday morning signed the state's first-ever anti-smoking bill into law at a public ceremony at the statehouse in Indianapolis.

Smoking won't be welcome at Indiana restaurants, but smokers need not to worry - there will still be plenty of places to light up in the Hoosier state, and restaurants have time to prepare for the change; the ban doesn't go into effect until July 1. Smokers will still be able to get their fix in Indiana casinos, bars, cigar shops and private clubs.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said he understands the bill won't please critics who wanted a stronger law, but he said it was important to get something on the books while lawmakers were in the mood.

"Indiana has wrestled for a long time in how to protect public health, employees in particular and public spaces against the hazards of second-hand smoke," Daniels said. "It's been a very, very long march. Lots of interests that need to be balanced."

Daniels credited state Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) with getting the measure past the finish line. Brown had spent six years advocating for a smoking ban.

"Got to say, Charlie, I'm really happy for you. You have worked so long and so tirelessly on this and never gave up," Daniels said. "I hope you feel you've achieved a really great thing here."

The number of exemptions has proven to be a controversial issue, though, especially among groups critical of smoking. Amanda Estridge, lobbiest and spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society of Indianapolis, said her organization did not support the final legislation.

"It's much harder to change a bill once it becomes law," Estridge said. "We don't agree that something is better than nothing."

Estridge said the law does not protect the 17,000 people who are employed by Indiana's gambling industry. She added Indiana spends $3.8 billion a year on smoking-related health care costs, with 11,000 annual deaths being attributed to the habit.

John Livengood is the president of the Indiana Restaurant Association. He said for most restaurants, the smoking ban is a good thing.

"I've always encouraged (businesses) to try because for most restaurants, it does not hurt their business," Livengood said. "In fact, it may help their business."

Livengood also heads the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association. He said hotel rooms may have a tough time enforcing the smoking ban since it's difficult to control what goes on in a hotel room.

The ban takes effect in July.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 06, 2012

Illinois Senate Panel Approves Strip Club Tax

A tax on strip-clubs was approved Tuesday by an Illinois Senate committee.

The legislation would boost the cost of admission into clubs that serve alcohol by $5 per person. Revenue from the tax would support groups that work to prevent sexual assault.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said her proposal would address some of the violence toward women that she attributes to alcohol and nude dancing.

"I understand that this is a pretty contentious subject, largely because it's difficult to talk about in open conversation," Hutchinson said. "We are talking about something that is pretty easy to watch devolve into snickers and jokes about what it is we're trying to do here."

Hutchinson said there's a link between alcohol, strip clubs and crime, particularly violence against women.

However, club owner Michael Ocello said such studies are flawed and outdated. Ocello owns five clubs in the Metro East area, on the Illinois side of the river across from St. Louis. He said a majority of the state's 50 or so strip clubs would not survive the proposal, leaving 2,000 dancers, bartenders and other workers out of work.

"Many of these clubs have been impacted by the worst economy the country's ever seen in years, and a tax of $5 per person will kill most of these small business operations," Ocello said.

The measure was approved unanimously in committee and advances to the Senate floor. But several legislators who voted for it say they want more information before the final vote.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 05, 2012

Quinn, Emanuel Appoint McCormick Place Board

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have appointed eight members to the board that runs the McCormick Place convention center.

State law gives them each four appointments to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

Quinn's appointees include attorney Carmen Lonstein and union leaders Ronald Powell, Bob Reiter and Becky Strzechowski.

Emanuel is appointing former state Comptroller Dan Hynes, retired ComEd CEO Frank Clark Jr., Bank of America executive Julie Chavez and Roger Kiley Jr., an attorney who was Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff in the 1990s.

In a news release Monday, Emanuel says it is important to have a good team in place because McCormick Place is essential to Chicago's economic future. Quinn says the appointees have the experience need to attract new tradeshows.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

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