Illinois Public Media News
Illinois' Senior Senator says a Congressional 'super committee' tasked with finding $1.5 trillion dollars in federal savings over the next 10 years has their work cut out for them.
The bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan, and then sell it to the rest of Congress.
It's unclear where possible budget cuts may happen, but Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said food assistance programs should be preserved.
During a visit Friday morning to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank in Urbana, Durbin underlined the importance of these services, saying food banks across the state have seen a 50 percent uptick in food assistance requests during the last couple of years. Durbin also pointed out that the Eastern Illinois Foodbank has increased food distribution by 24 percent during the same period.
"My hope is that as we look for ways to cut spending, and we don't do it at the expense of feeding children and families that are struggling," Durbin said. "I hope that we can all agree - both parties can agree - on a good starting point there to preserve the safety net."
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank said last year it gave out 6.8 million pounds of food, with federal commodities making up about a quarter of that stock from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
"It's been a really important program for food banks during the recession," said Cheryl Precious, director of development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. "We're worried about it to say the least."
Precious said the Eastern Illinois Foodbank is anticipating a 50 percent reduction in federal commodities for this upcoming year.
"That's going to significantly impact us," Precious said. "We're going to have to make up that food by purchasing or increasing donations or we're just going to have to get creative about it."
Durbin also emphasized the importance of social safety net programs - like unemployment benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, and job re-training programs. He said he hopes the country's financial problems and the recent downgrade of the nation's credit rating by Standard and Poors serve as a wakeup call to the 12-lawmakers on the bipartisan deficit reduction committee.
"If they go in with a spirit of bipartisanship and compromise where both sides are willing to give, we can get this resolved," Durbin said. "If they walk into the door with preconceived notions and political positions that are non-negotiable, nothing is going to happen. It's going to fail."
Durbin wouldn't comment on specific programs that should be cut, but he said he would like to see tax breaks for the wealthiest people trimmed back.
"If there's no agreement, we go into automatic cuts in both the defense and veterans side of it, as well as the other non-defense spending," he said. "I don't believe we can rationalize cutting the safety net in America when so many working families life from pay check to paycheck, and many with a paycheck can't make ends meet."
Meanwhile, Illinois' other US senator, Republican Mark Kirk, weighed in on the Congressional committee's task ahead during a news conference Wednesday in Chicago. Kirk said he does not think there is consensus in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for any tax hikes.
Congress is in recess until after Labor Day. Kirk said the joint commission should start meeting next Monday. He also urged President Obama to recall Congress to get to work on the nation's debt problems.
"Congress should not be in recess right now," Kirk said. "We see tremendous anxiety with the potential of the U.S. to go into recession and one of the greatest ways to restore confidence is, not to have a speech and not to lay out a set of vague principles, but to see the elected representatives of the American people working on entitlement reforms right away."
If the committee fails to meet its Thanksgiving deadline to come up with a plan, or if Congress rejects their proposal, then $1.2 trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts would go into effect. Critics are expressing doubt that the bipartisan panel will overcome its stark political differences.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The mayor of Villa Grove says the future of the Douglas County community's downtown remains a question mark after fire destroyed a 100-year old building Wednesday night.
Seventeen different departments fought the blaze, many of them staying throughout the night. There were no injuries. The State Fire Marshall is still investigating the cause. Villa Grove Mayor Thelma 'Boots' Blaney said the building was vacant, and most businesses on the north side of downtown, across Main Street, are open. But she said it will take some time for a local bar, beauty shop, and jewelry store to clean up from smoke and water damage.
Blaney said the firewall around the structures did its job, or the entire block would have been lost. She says those helping out overnight Wednesday motivated each other.
"The businesses just stepped up to the plate," she said. "We have pizzas and all kinds of drinks and ice. People were donating. Businesses were donating. You know, they all just stepped up to the plate, and the firefighters helped them keep going too."
Fire departments helping out included those from St. Joseph, Broadlands, Tuscola, Savoy, Philo, and Comargo.
"Right now, our main concern is getting it cleaned up and the safety of everyone, and trying to go from there," Blaney said. "I mean, it's just like everywhere else, you know, Villa Grove has been struggling. Lord knows what's going to hold up for the future."
Villa Grove Police say the buildings that were destroyed formerly housed the local Moose Lodge and a Chinese restaurant, but the structures had been empty for at least 10 years.
New U.S. Census Bureau figures show the number of Illinois households run by same-sex couples has jumped nearly 42 percent in the last decade.
That's from 22,887 in 2000 to 32,469 last year.
The trend in Illinois mirrors those nationwide. Experts and advocates say social attitudes toward same-sex couples are changing. Also, over the last decade Illinois has passed several laws for gay rights. Most recently, the state approved same-sex civil unions, which give gay couples many of the same rights as married couples.
The census data released late Wednesday shows a 53 percent jump in female couples since 2000.
In 2000, most of the couples were male - 12,155 compared with 10,732 female couples. But last year there were 16,416 female couples compared with 16,053 male couples.
Postcards are in the mail to Illinois low-income senior citizens eligible to ride free on public transit.
The Department on Aging announced Wednesday the postcards went to seniors enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program.
Those seniors remain eligible for free rides on public buses and trains.
Free rides are ending for other seniors, although they'll still get reduced fares. Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in February to limit the "Seniors Ride Free" program to low-income seniors.
Seniors in the Circuit Breaker program may need to contact their local public transit agency for a free ride card.
To qualify for Circuit Breaker assistance, an applicant's total income for 2010 must be less than $27,610 for a household size of one.
(Photo courtesy of erekslater/Flickr)
A nationwide effort to raise awareness about crime and drug prevention kicks off Tuesday night in Champaign.
The annual 'National Night Out' typically lasts for a day, but this year it is being broken up into more than a dozen events throughout the month.
"Historically it's just something that's happened in Champaign, and Urbana was doing their thing, and Savoy, and so it was just a real disjointed effort," Champaign Neighborhood Coordinator John Ruffin said. "Now it's a joint effort to really focus on making sure that Champaign remains a safe and healthy community."
For the first time, workshops led by the Champaign and Urbana Police Departments and the Champaign Fire Department will be offered. Chelsea Angelo, a safety education coordinator with the city of Urbana, said she hopes this expanded role by law enforcement officials helps bridge the gap between neighborhoods and police officers.
"We're always looking for ways to bring our officers into contact with the citizens that not involving strictly enforcement," Angelo said. "We don't want them to only see our officers when there is an emergency situation going on."
The 'National Night Out' kicks off Tuesday at 6pm at the Champaign City Hall. More information about other activities planned can be found on the city of Champaign's website.
A college education will be more affordable for thousands of undocumented immigrants in Illinois.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a bill that will set up privately funded college scholarships for children of immigrants, legal or not. The program's backers say it will be the nation's first state-created scholarship fund benefiting undocumented immigrants.
"[It's] certainly something that will get noticed around the country and in the Congress," said Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute.
The Illinois measure could build support for a federal bill called the DREAM Act, according to McHugh. That bill, introduced in May by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) would lay a path to citizenship for many undocumented students and military members who arrived in the country before age 16. Durbin has been pushing versions of this measure since 2001.
Opponents say helping out the young people rewards their parents for violating immigration laws.
Quinn signed the scholarships bill at Benito Juárez Community Academy, a mostly Mexican high school in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. He called the occasion a "landmark" day and told an auditorium of people that education is the key to opportunity in a democracy.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the ceremony after announcing support for the measure in May. Lobbying led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights helped push the bill through the Illinois Senate and House that month.
Under the measure, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission will create a nonprofit organization to manage the scholarship funds. High-school guidance counselors will receive training about the program. The immigrant families will also be able to join state-run college savings programs.
Illinois and several other states already provide undocumented students in-state tuition.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A spokesman says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to allow the children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to get private college scholarships and enroll in state college savings programs.
Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman says the governor will sign the bill Monday.
Called the Illinois Dream Act, the measure creates a panel to raise private money for college scholarships. Supporters say this will help illegal immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools go on to college because they may otherwise not be able to afford it.
Students must have at least one immigrant parent and must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years to qualify for scholarship money.
Opponents say the legislation wrongly helps people who violate immigration laws.
Legislation that would have required Cook County to free some jail inmates wanted by immigration authorities is dead for now.
Commissioner Jesús García (D-Chicago) withdrew his bill at Wednesday's County Board meeting.
"We want to rethink it," García said afterwards.
The measure would have made the county the nation's largest jurisdiction to end blanket compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. Those are requests by the federal agency for local jails to keep some inmates 48 hours beyond what their criminal cases require.
García's bill would have also ended the county's compliance unless the inmate had been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors and unless the county got reimbursed.
Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she would back releasing some inmates wanted by ICE, but she said she wants to hear from State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
"We hope to have a written opinion from the state's attorney that will allow us to proceed," Preckwinkle said after the board meeting.
A letter from Alvarez to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's office back in 2009 said the jail "must comply with any ICE detainers."
But ICE officials in recent months have said there is no legal requirement for jails to comply. Dart told Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ, this month he planned to ask Alvarez for an updated opinion.
Alvarez's office hasn't answered WBEZ's questions about whether she will revisit that opinion.
(Photo by Bill Healy/IPR)
Every school in Danville School District #118 will get the choice this year of implementing a dress code for their students.
Parents are learning more about the proposal in public forums Wednesday night and in one week. Associate superintendent Dianna Kirk said it will be up to parents at each building.
"We will ask that parents vote during registration to say yes or no for the uniform dress code policy in their child's particular building," Kirk said. "When a particular school's survey reaches 60 percent in favor of the standard, then we have proposed that we implement this uniform dress code beginning January 4."
The fall semester could be used to help parents and kids prepare for the new code.
The code would be the same for all schools that accept it -- it would require certain solid color, button-down or polo shirts and forbid items ranging from jeans to hoodies to t-shirts.
Kirk said administrators have heard both opposition and support from parents and students.
"Some parents feel that it's less expensive once they've established the basic wardrobe," Kirk said. "Some students also say that people won't talk when they don't have this brand name on or that brand name on."
But Kirk acknowledges that other students and parents oppose the dress code's effect on individuality. She said there has been talk of a so-called uniform closet where those who can't afford the new wardrobe can get help.
Two Illinois agencies will get more than $1.1 million in federal grant money to prevent homelessness among military veterans.
The grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will serve about 340 vets and their families who are homeless or don't have a permanent home.
An agency called Thresholds in Chicago will get $439,722 and Chicago-based Volunteers of America in Illinois will get $719,400.
The money is among nearly $60 million the department will award to 85 nonprofit agencies in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs provides money to community agencies to help with such services as getting Veterans Administration benefits, and paying rent, utilities or moving costs.
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