The 2008 recession has taken its toll up and down U.S. Route 150 - and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says almost every Illinois county along the 150 corridor has seen an uptick in 2010 in use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. But anti-hunger advocates say many people who have lost their jobs are NOT taking advantage of SNAP. Illinois Public Media's Dave Dickey reports as a part of the series "Life on Route 150.
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In rural towns throughout Central Illinois, deciding where to attend worship service today could mean giving up youth activities or choir for a smaller service, or sacrificing a local connection to seek out parishioners of a similar age in a large congregation. As part of the series, 'Life on Route 150', Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert looks at rural churches, and what some in the region are doing to survive in today's climate.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The last event in the city of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration is an open family-oriented party Thursday night.
The city is using the brand-new Boneyard Second Street Basin development as the backdrop for what it calls a Unity Celebration. The first one-thousand attendees will be treated to free food, and there will be music, entertainment and games.
LaEisha Meadards is heading up the sesquicentennial events for the city. She says another highlight will require the help of as many Champaign residents as possible. "All of the visitors who come to the Unity Celebration will get together and take a community-wide photo," Meadards said. "It will be used as a commemorative item for city-related documents, and it will be on sale for the community at large."
During a dedication ceremony at 5:40, the city will also place a time capsule at the Boneyard commemorating a series of 150th-anniversary events that began more than a year ago. The Unity Celebration takes place tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 8:30 with the community photo at 6:10.
Even though small towns may not have big crime problems compared to larger areas, they still need law enforcement. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers visited one town that's keeping its local police presence intact despite the state's economic challenges, and another town that recently dismantled its police force to save money.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
An effort is underway in Urbana to identify the city's 100 most important structures, which may include buildings, statues, and bridges.
The project is part of an effort to showcase the city's architectural history and heritage. City planner Robert Meyers said he hopes the list drives up tourism as people flock to Urbana to learn more about the area.
"We're identifying places of interest where people can visit from out of town or even from our own community," Meyers said. "The physical layout and design of the community, also its history and historic structures, that helps people identify their community and in turn themselves."
The top landmarks will be unveiled in an illustrated online and print guide released later this fall. To submit recommendations about structures that should be included, contact the city at (217) 384-2440 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Civil rights groups claim a new Indiana law set to take effect July 1 gives police sweeping arrest powers against immigrants who haven't committed any crime. The state attorney general's office argues such fears are exaggerated and based on misunderstanding of the law.
U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson is set to hear arguments from both sides Monday as she considers a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center, which are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect next month.
The groups aren't fighting all provisions of the wide-ranging law, which also takes away certain tax credits from employers who hire illegal immigrants. The main bone of contention is arrest powers.
The new law allows police to arrest immigrants under certain conditions, including if they face a removal order issued by an immigration court. The lawsuit filed last month, however, says some of the conditions are too broad, can apply widely to thousands of immigrants and violate the constitutional requirement of probable cause.
For example, the civil rights groups contend the law's wording would allow the arrest of anyone who has had a notice of action filed by immigration authorities, a formal paperwork step that affects virtually anyone applying to be in the U.S. for any reason.
"The statute authorizes Indiana police to arrest persons despite the fact that there is no probable cause that such persons have committed crimes," the groups argued in a brief filed this month.
The Indiana law also makes it illegal for immigrants to present ID cards issued by foreign consulates as proof of identification anywhere in the state outside of the consulate, such as for buying alcohol or applying for a bank account.
The lawsuit claims the state is trying to step into immigration issues that clearly are the province of the federal government. The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of two Mexicans and one Nigerian who live in the Indianapolis area.
ACLU attorney Ken Falk said Thursday that four countries - Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala - plan to file briefs in the case. The move would not be unusual, Mexico and 10 other countries recently joined civil rights groups' legal fight against a tough new immigration law in Georgia and there have been similar filings in other states.
State attorneys argue claims about the law are speculative and based on an "irrational" and "absurd" interpretation. They note Indiana's law doesn't go as far as the Arizona measure, struck down on appeal, that included provisions to compel police to check the citizenship status of anyone who they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in the country illegally.
"Indiana's statute merely gives Indiana officers the discretion to assist federal enforcement of immigration laws. Indiana's statute does not purport to give Indiana any ability to participate in federal removal or deportation proceedings, nor does it allow Indiana to pass judgment concerning the removability of an individual," the state said in its brief filed Wednesday.
In a response filed Friday, the ACLU dismissed state arguments that the law would be used only in cases where people otherwise faced arrest, repeating its claim that the statute authorized arrest for offenses that aren't crimes in violation of the Fourth Amendment and impinged on federal immigration authority.
"Immigration is not a state concern," the brief flatly stated.
State immigration enforcement laws have not recently fared well in federal courts.
Arizona passed its law in 2010, but parts of were put on hold by a district court judge before it went into effect. That ruling was upheld in April by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and last month Gov. Jan Brewer said she plans to appeal the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last month, a Utah law giving police the authority to arrest anyone who cannot prove their citizenship was put on hold by a federal judge 14 hours after it went into effect. The next hearing is there scheduled in July.
Faced with waning revenue coupled with concerns over state funding, Decatur's United Way has set some new priorities.
The United Way earlier this month decided to eliminate two of its programs - First Call for Help and AFL-CIO Community Services. While both programs are important, the agency's executive director, Denise Smith, said those services were not meeting the greatest community need. The agency also concluded that its AFL-CIO Community Services program saw too narrow a focus through union workers and their families.
Smith said 90-percent of comments from the public supported those changes.
"As state funding and federal funding continues to dwindle, you know, United Way's importance is very strong in the community," Smith said. "So we hope to continue making it a better place for all of us to live, work, and play."
Before this month, Smith said the United Way had no full-time staff devoted solely to its campaign. Over the next five years, the agency will seek the help of a resource development professional, a grant writer, and an endowment director.
The last two positions will not rely on additional resources since the grant writer will be self supporting, and the endowment professional will be funded from the United Way's current endowment.
(Reported by Dan Petrella and Jay Lee of CU-CitizenAccess)
Champaign County's immigration-service agencies may have to bear some of the burden for the state's burgeoning debt - and they aren't happy about it.
With the state's deficit projected to hit $15 billion by the end of the year, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed large-scale budget cuts for the next two fiscal years, and last week the state Legislature approved a 2012 budget that makes even deeper cuts. This includes drastic cuts to funding for grants to agencies that assist immigrants and refugees.
"These cuts are more than just substantial - they're devastating," said Deborah Hlavna, the director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, 302 S. Birch St., Urbana.
And on top of the cuts to services for immigrants and refugees, the 2012 budget, which awaits the governor's signature, would cut overall funding for the Department of Human Services by nearly $670 million, about 17 percent of its total budget.
"The ripple effect will be enormous," Hlavna said before the Legislature passed its budget. "We're all waiting nervously to see what's going to happen, but it's not looking too good right now."
The final impact of the budget cuts remains unclear. Senate Democrats attempted to restore some of the money for human services by adding it to a bill to fund capital improvement projects. But the House did not vote on the measure before the spring legislative session adjourned. Quinn has suggested he may call lawmakers back to vote on the package during the summer.
The governor originally recommended cutting funds for immigrants and refugees when he presented his budget plan to lawmakers in February.
His proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, would have seen a $1.7 billion increase overall from this year despite widespread cuts at several areas, including human services, education, public safety and health care coverage. But the budget legislators approved calls for spending $2 billion less than the he proposed.
"These proposed cuts are a horrendous mistake," Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said, referring to Quinn's proposed cuts to immigration services. "We're not happy, to say the least."
Hoyt said that the coalition predicts that at least 15 agencies that serve immigrants will have to close if the proposed cut in funding takes effect. The Asian and Latino communities in Illinois will be hurt the most, he said.
In Champaign County, the Latino population has more than doubled in the last decade, while the Asian population has grown by 55 percent, according to 2010 census data.
This reflects a growing trend in the entire state. The Asian community in Illinois grew by 38 percent in the last 10 years, and the Latino population increased by 33 percent.
The refugee center's Hlavna said that agencies in central Illinois will feel the impact the most because of limited fundraising capabilities in the midst of a growing immigrant community.
"We're lucky in that we only rely partially on state funding," she said. "That won't be true for a lot of others in the area."
Immigration advocacy groups and agencies like Hoyt's have voiced their displeasure over the cuts, pointing to how immigration services make up slightly more than 1 percent of the state's budget.
"We should be giving more funding to help immigrants and refugees, not less," Hoyt said. "This is an issue that isn't going away, and is going - and this cut in funding would be a mistake."
Esther Wong, executive director of the Illinois-based Chinese American Service League, said she has seen immigration agencies face funding problems ever since she began working with Chinese-American communities in Illinois in 1978 - but nothing like what Quinn proposed.
"We have not faced any drastic cuts like this ever before," Wong said. "I didn't believe it at first."
The Latino Partnership of Champaign County will also receive less state funding with the proposed cuts, but David Adcock, the group's treasurer, said he had mixed reactions to Quinn's proposal.
"I can't say I was surprised because I knew everything was going to be on the table. Something needs to be done with the state's financial situation," Adcock said. "Did I think the cuts would be so drastic? No. But it is what it is."
The cuts in funding for immigration and refugee services would lessen financial support for grant-receiving agencies such as the refugee center, but the wider cuts to the Illinois Department of Human Services would compound the pain.
"The weakening of the (Department of Human Services) will hurt the most for all the smaller groups in Illinois," Hlavna said. "We work alongside them all the time and when we can't meet our clients' needs, we will direct them and go with them to the DHS."
The refugee center has adapted to the state's history of slow payments, but the cuts to the Department of Humans Services throws the agency a new curveball, she said.
"We've been waiting on our check for a long time," Hlavna said with a laugh. "We've been smart enough not to depend on their money. But we need their help and their services."
Sarah Baumer, an administrator at the Department of Human Services' Champaign County office, declined to comment on the looming budget cuts, but conceded that they will curb the resources the office can provide.
"Adjustments will be made," Baumer said.
Anh Ha Ho, co-director of the refugee center with Hlavna, said that the major needs of immigrants in Champaign County pertain to issues such as food, money, health care and housing - all of which fall into the jurisdiction of the Department of Human Services.
Local immigration-service organizations such as the refugee center don't provide many direct services, Ho said, rather relying on government agencies like Department of Human Services. A great deal of Ho's time is spent helping clients with paperwork and applications for the services through the department.
"We take advantage of the services in place because that's really all immigrants need," Ho said. "We're here to make sure that they get the help they need."
And in a county in which nearly one out of every 10 residents is an immigrant, the budget cuts to human services will especially affect a Champaign County population that has limited access to non-English-speaking resources.
"We have the immigration population of a big metropolitan city without the big city resources," Hlavna said. "We have to rely on each other and we really have to rely on the DHS."
Adcock, of the Latino Partnership, said that a drop in available assistance by the human-services agency may alter the approach of immigration-services organizations
"It'll be harder for people to get the help they need, so we may have to look into different options available," Adcock said. "We may have to look more towards private resources, whether that's local churches or donors or whatever it is."
Funding was a major concern for Champaign County immigration-service agencies even before the proposed cuts, Adcock said, but they will not have to focus their efforts on tightening budget and fundraising.
"Everyone's been on the bubble and funding will always be a concern," Adcock said with a smile. "But we're still here.
A new tradition of fresh produce starts up again in Champaign Thursday.
It's the 3rd year for the Farmer's Market on North First Street. Manager Wendy Langacker says the sales of meats, fruits, crafts, and fresh cut flowers has served as an economic boon to the area, a part of town once considered a food desert when the North First Street Association was formed.
"They figured that one way to kind of kill two birds with one stone was to have a farmer's market," said Langacker. "So it would not only bring potential customers for their business by bringing them to the market and having them see the area, but it also would bring fresh, healty food to the people in that area."
Langacker says one of the real goals of cooking demonstrations and recipes available on site is getting young people to like vegetables.
"I think one thing that people really experienced last year was when you buy things that are at peak, or as I call seasonal cooking, the flavors are just multiplied," said Langacker. "And I had several famiiles come back, and say 'my kid never eats vegetables, now they love vegetables."
The Champaign Farmer's Market will include local musicians, including a steel drum performer on Thursday. New vendors include a seller of specialty cakes and cupcakes, and a maker of locally made dog biscuits. The market is also pet friendly
The market runs from 3 to 7 p.m. each Thursday thru September 1st at 201 North First Street. Meanwhile, the University of Illinois' Sustainable Student Farm will start up its own Thursday produce stand in the Urbana campus quad, beginning Thursday. It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More and more people are taking advantage of their area state parks for camping, fishing and other recreation. In fact, nearly 2,000,000 people a year pass through two state parks along Route 150. Yet the agency charged with running them has seen significant budget cuts in the past decade. In this installment of our "Life on Route 150" series, Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers visited the parks and took a snapshot of their health.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)