Illinois Public Media News
The Citizens Utility Board says most smart phone users are paying too much for their service, because of wireless data plans that are too big for their needs.
At a Champaign news conference on Thursday, CUB spokesman Patrick Deignan said an analysis they commissioned of Verizon bills nationwide showed that their average smart phone customer used less than 500 megabytes of data per month --- far less than what was provided by Verizon's lowest data plan. Diegnan said that industry-wide, the available data plans were either too big, or too small.
"Verizon, for example, their standard data plan for a smart phone is two gigabytes," he said. "AT&T and T-Mobile, I believe, offer 200 megabyte plans. But we're not seeing a plan to fit the average user, which is about 450 megabytes a month."
Deignan said that means many wireless customers are buying plans that are too big for their needs, causing them to pay for capacity they don't use. He said CUB is calling on the wireless industry to improve the situation for consumers --- by offering lower-tier data plans of 500 megabytes to 1 gigabyte, as well as family share plans and rollover data to help wireless customers make their money go further.
In the meantime, the consumer group is inviting smart phone users to run their wireless bill through CUB's online Cellphone Saver, to find out how where to cut unused data or unwanted services. Diegnan said that the Cellphone Saver program has analyzed more than 19,000 bills since its launch three years ago -- and found savings in 70% of the cases.
A spokesman for the wireless industry could not be immediately reached for comment.
Illinois is joining a growing number of states making oral chemotherapy treatments more affordable.
For years, cancer drugs were usually injected. But scientific advances have made oral treatment possible, and in many cases, preferred. The problem is they usually come with a higher cost and insurance policies will not always pick up the tab.
Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that will require health coverage of both types of treatment at a similar cost to the patient. Supporters of the new law say it will improve the quality of care patients receive.
"As an oncologist, I see firsthand the struggles cancer patients go through as they fight this devastating disease," said Dr. Katherine Griem, chair of the American Cancer Society's Illinois chapter. "One thing they shouldn't have to struggle with is how they get the treatment they need."
Griem said the law, which will take effect in January, will give those fighting cancer one less thing to worry about.
Oral chemotherapy drugs are preferred for certain types of cancer. They are also part of the growing trend of so called 'smart drugs" that are designed to attack only cancer cells, which better protects the immune system. Griem said smart drugs target the cancer and have been found to result in fewer side effects. While they come with a higher price tag, they can also reduce therapy time and save on long term medical costs.
(With additional reporting by Pam Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)
About a dozen residents from Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court protested outside of the Champaign County Housing Authority Wednesday to bring to light the troubles they have had finding a new place to live.
Their protest had the intended effect - a meeting with housing authority officials within the next week or so and increased help to find a place to live.
Earlier this year, the housing authority received federal approval to demolish the two apartment complexes as part of redevelopment plan to rebuild larger, mixed-income properties. The complexes have provided housing for low-to-moderate income residents and have been managed by the housing authority.
The properties make up about 90 units of the housing authority's public housing stock and are the oldest public housing properties in the area.
As part of redevelopment plans, the housing authority issued Section 8 vouchers to the residents in June. The vouchers, which provide subsidies for low income families and individuals, are used to rent properties nationwide from private landlords.
"We're out here today because one month ago we were given Section 8 vouchers, (yet) only five residents at Dorsey have been able to find housing," said Margaret Neil, a resident of Joann Dorsey Homes and a commissioner with the housing authority board.
Public housing residents said that finding a place to live under the new payment standards is difficult. Residents also say some landlords have ill conceived notions of people who live in public housing, and do not want to rent to those with Section 8 vouchers. They also say some housing units simply don't have enough space, or do not offer rent that is low enough to meet voucher standards.
"Most of the residents at Joann Dorsey I know that have found places, it's because their sister was renting from that landlord," Neil said. "They haven't gone out cold turkey and found a place. For most of the residents at Joann Dorsey and Dunbar, I think are from Chicago. So, they don't have those ties in the community."
Section 8 vouchers are known as "housing choice" vouchers and allow clients a chance to choose where they want to live. The vouchers cover application fees, security payments, and a certain amount of a tenant's rent based on income. For those with any type of income, the client is required to pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward housing costs. For those without income, the housing authority will pay 100 percent of the housing costs.
The client first finds a place and the housing authority then must approve the unit by calculating the client's affordability rate and then inspecting the unit.
"When we heard about, everybody was happy because they was going to tear (it) down and rebuild again," said Cleo Clay recently, president of the Joann Dorsey Homes resident council. "They were supposed to find relocation for everybody up here ... but the problem is houses we seem to be looking for is not affordable for us."
Clay has lived on and off at Joann Dorsey Homes for more than 20 years. It took Clay four tries before she found a place to live - which was pending approval from the housing authority.
"Everybody is getting frustrated and mad," she said, because the landlords are not accepting the vouchers.
The Champaign County Housing Authority has issued about 1,500 Section 8 vouchers and pay $9 million annually in rent, said Edward Bland, executive director of the Champaign County Housing Authority.
Up until last year, the housing authority paid 110 percent of the fair market rent in the Champaign-Urbana area. To conserve money, however, the board voted to reduce that amount to 95 percent, Bland said.
"We want to make sure that we are being fiscally responsible," Bland said. "There have been several housing authorities throughout this country that have run into a financial situation where they had to take families off the program because they were over spending money in the section 8 program."
The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Champaign-Urbana, according to federal housing standards is $713. Under the new rental payments, the housing authority will only pay no more than $688 for that apartment.
"As of June of last year, they effectively made it not feasible from a financial standpoint to rent to Section 8 (clients)," said local landlord Antwuan Neely.
Neely owns more than 100 properties in Champaign-Urbana - mostly single-family houses. He said he leases about one-third of his properties to Section 8 tenants.
At 110 percent, the former payment standard gave low-to-moderate income families more housing options, Neely said.
"But by reducing the payment standards, it seriously affected those families," he said. "Yes you still can find places in Champaign-Urbana, but with the economy as it is, now you have a lot more people looking for the same type of properties."
Of the 90 or so families in the two public housing complexes, 20 of them have found new places to live, Bland said.
"We will not be forcing any families to move before they are ready to move because we want to make sure every family is comfortable with where they want to go," he said.
Bland said that the housing authority held more than a dozen meetings since last year to work with residents and will continue to meet with them to alleviate their concerns. He said his department will not move forward with tearing down the apartments until all the tenants move out.
"We realize that for some they may need some extra help, and that's what the housing authority is here for," he said. "We're setting up additional meetings with the families ... within the next week or so (to) once again to let those families know they aren't being pushed out."
For the protesters, a meeting is just what they wanted.
"We hope that by picketing down here today, the housing authority will realize that the help they promised - we're serious, we want that help, we will be your face until we get that help, we hope that a meeting will come out of picketing," Neil said.
Late Wednesday, Bland met with Neil to discuss further assistance. He said that the housing authority will increase the value of the Section 8 voucher from its current 95 percent to its previous 110 percent for Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court tenants "for relocation purposes".
He said that housing authority officials still plan to meet with residents to discuss assistance.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to negotiate with unions to keep labor reforms at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center.
But he also says he and top lawmakers are ready to bring legislators back to Springfield in September to fine tune any necessary legislation.
Quinn met Tuesday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the state's four legislative leaders about ways to keep the work rule changes.
A federal judge ruled in March that many of the labor reforms lawmakers wanted at McCormick were illegal because they went beyond the terms of union contracts.
The judge also ruled legislators overturned collective bargaining rights in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
Some conventions have pulled out of the city because of the high cost to host events at McCormick.
The financially-struggling U.S. Postal Service is putting thousands of post offices under review for possible closure - including many in east central Illinois.
Two of them are Champaign's Campustown post office and the facility inside the U of I's Altgeld Hall. But most are rural post offices in some of the smallest communities. They include Bondville, Dewey, Ivesdale, Penfield, Royal and Longview in Champaign County as well as Armstrong, Collison, Indianola and Muncie in Vermilion County and DeLand in Piatt County.
Valerie Welsch is with the post office's district headquarters in Saint Louis. Welsch said being on the list does not necessarily mean closure -customers who use those post offices will be given questionnaires before any closing decision is made.
"The local operations manager will make a determination whether they think that's possible," she said. "If they do, that'll get forwarded to the district manager. If he feels it's warranted, then it will go to our national headquarters in Washington, DC for a final decision."
Welsch said if a post office is tagged for closure, there is another 30-day public appeal process. She said the Postal Service is seeing more people use online and other retail services for things like stamps. Welsch also said post offices in communities are sometimes replaced by community postal boxes.
The electric utility serving most of central and southern Illinois says it churned out a record amount of power this week.
Ameren says consumers used more than 9600 megawatts of electricity at one point Thursday, breaking a record that was just set on Tuesday. The old record was set four summers ago, in August 0f 2007.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said as long as there are heat advisories in place for the area, no one's power will be deliberately shut off, even those who are haven't paid their bills. But they will not be safe once the weather cools, and Morris said they have had plenty of warning.
"They have received many many notices advising them that they are falling behind in their bill," Morris said. "Eventually they will receive what is called a disconnection notice. However again they are encouraged to contact us to set up a payment plan because we don't want to disconnect them."
Morris said Ameren has not had any heat-related outages, and it has been able to handle the high demand without calls to cut back on power use.
Two of the nation's largest pharmacy benefits management companies could become one in the first six months of next year.
The $29.1 billion merger between St. Louis-based Express Scripts and and Medco Health Solutions, based in New Jersey, still needs approval from both shareholders and regulators. The boards of both companies approved the merger on Thursday.
If approved, the company, which would retain the Express Scripts name and headquarters, would be the largest of its kind in the country. Together, Express Scripts and Medco handled 1.7 billion prescriptions in 2010, and generated more than $110 billion in revenue.
The size, said Express Scripts' chief spokesman Larry Zarin, would give the new company an edge on reducing health care costs, which he says is a priority of the nation as well as the corporation.
"Where we are with health care costs, where we are with health care reform, the size of that challenge and the absolute call for new, innovative solutions, both structurally and tactically, and we're going to take on both," he said.
The companies say they have identified $1 billion in potential savings by streamlining areas like the supply chain and research and development.
But Zarin ducked questions about possible layoffs.
"Today is not the day to talk about that," he said. "Today is the day to look forward. "We're going to take a very thoughtful approach to the integration, a very thoughtful approach in terms of structuring the organization in the best way, and we're not really going to take a look at head count today."
Medco has 20,000 employees - Express Scripts has about 13,000.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines is claiming to have made the largest purchase on Wednesday of airplanes in aviation history, but it is raising some questions over how the purchase will affect American's relationship with the Chicago-based Boeing company.
American has had an almost exclusive relationship buying planes from Boeing, or companies Boeing bought out, for years. But that all changed when American announced today that it's buying 200 new planes from Boeing and 260 planes from Boeing's rival, Airbus.
"I think it's hurtful to Boeing," said Aaron Gellman, who follows the airline industry at Northwestern University.
He said the higher ups at Boeing should be raising questions about how Airbus struck such a lucrative deal with American Airlines.
But Florida-based aviation consultant Stuart Klaskin said the order does not mean there is a broken relationship between American and Boeing.
"There's no way they can say they're disappointed," Klaskin said. "They just sold 200 airplanes to American Airlines. I mean, God. It's a massive - by any other standard it's a massive order."
Klaskin said if anything, American caught up with other airline companies by diversifying its fleet of planes so as to not have all its eggs in the Boeing basket.
Meanwhile, Joe Schwieterman, who follows the aviation industry at Chicago's DePaul University, said, "This is really making a statement that they're going to have an equal mix of Airbus and Boeing and I think it's a bit of a wake up call for Boeing, as well, that they shouldn't count on the majority of orders from the big guys here in the U.S."
Schwieterman said there is no need for Boeing to panic. Buying 200 planes is still a huge order and it should give Boeing confidence to make further improvements to its aircraft.
Borders says it plans to end its operations by the end of September.
The Ann Arbor-based company announced plans Monday to sell off its assets after not receiving any bids to stay in business. At its peak in 2003, Borders ran more than 1,200 stores, but by the time the company filed for bankruptcy protection in February, that number was cut in half.
Technology played a big role in the company's demise, according to Dilip Sarwate, a professor in business administration at the University of Illinois.
"It's certainly difficult to compete with the likes of Amazon," Sarwate said. "I'm not sure this could be completely avoided. Fewer and fewer people are visiting bookstores. They are going to their computers and buying books."
But Lisa Bayer, who is the marketing director for the University of Illinois Press, said while technology did play a role in Border's downfall, it could have been avoided. She said Borders simply was not prepared for the onslaught of digital reading devices.
"They didn't position themselves to take advantage of various changes," Bayer said. "Barnes and Noble has the NOOK. Amazon developed the Kindle. Borders did really nothing."
Borders did come out with an e-reader last year, known as a Kobo. Produced by an electronic company in Canada, the Kobo will still be available to people who use the software to purchase and read books.
Up until Monday, the University of Illinois Press was still doing business with Borders. Bayer said the publishing company has been distancing itself from the retail giant over the last five years for various reasons, including "very questionable" decisions by the company's management.
Bayer said the University of Illinois Press' involvement with Borders was so minimal that she does not think the bookstore's failure will have a huge impact on the publishing company.
"It's very likely they hadn't even ordered any of our books in a while," she said, noting that many of the University of Illinois Press' books are scholarly journals. "We're not as much of an interest to them as some other kinds of publishers."
Of the nearly 400 Borders bookstores slated to close, three are in Champaign, Mattoon and Peoria.
Mary Beth Nebel runs an independent retail bookstore in Peoria called "I Know You Like a Book." She said she does not think Border's demise is a sign that other retailers are destined to fail.
"I hate to see any bookstore close," she said, reflecting on Border's closure. "I think independent bookstore like I have is much different than a chain store. It's more of a community-based place. I think more people will enjoy that sort of atmosphere."
With Peoria's Borders expected to close and a Barnes and Noble still running, Nebel said she has no intention of changing the way she runs her five-year-old business.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Monday's U.S. Department of Agriculture crop report showing a decline in the condition of Illinois' corn crop has been followed by a rise in corn futures prices Tuesday on the Chicago Board of Trade.
In early trading, December corn rose 20 cents to $7.16 and 1/4 cents a bushel. University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good said that is the market reaction he expected.
"We know there's a large number of factors that influence the value of corn," Good said. "But at this time of year, crop conditions and perspective production is the dominant factor. And I think that's influencing the market behavior this week, as there are some increasing concerns about the size of the crop."
The USDA reported 61 percent of the state's corn crop to be in good or excellent condition, which is down from recent weeks. Some fields have started to turn brown. Good said that shows the impact of hot, dry weather on the nation's number two corn-producing state. And with the heat wave continuing this week, he said Illinois crop conditions could take another hit when the Agriculture Department releases another report next Monday.
Good said while weather forecasters are not making many long-term predictions, some models call for at least limited relief from the hot, dry weather in the coming weeks. That could improve crop conditions.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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