Illinois Public Media News
A watered-down version of what began as a panhandling ordinance has been approved by the Urbana City Council.
The measure that passed on a 5-to-1 vote Monday night instead bans what's called 'aggressive solicitation,' or those who ask for money in a threatening or intimidating matter. The new ordinance removed portions that banned any requests for donations in the Philo Road Business District.
Alderwoman Diane Marlin said those who aggressively beg in that area have brought one unintended consequence.
"Basically, people who have been approached, or aggressively solicited or felt threatened, their reaction is to just stop patronizing businesses where this occured," she said. "That's a survival tactic."
The new measure still prohibits solicitation near an ATM or bank. Public opponents, including resident Ron Custer, argue that laws already on the books in Urbana should handle what the council is trying to address. Custer is one of several opponents who has come out in the last few weeks to speak out about the issue.
"I mean, when we hear anecdotes of somebody being terrorized in their car, and somebody else saying 'oh this happens routinely,'" Custer said. "Doesn't that sound like something that could have been responded to effectively by now?"
Opponents also say the original ordinance unfairly targeted poor people, and didn't distinguish from those who intimidated from those who casually ask for money.
One change to the new ordinance allows violators to perform community service as an alternative to paying a fine. That's an idea welcomed by Alderman Eric Jakobsson.
"That certainly will not dilute what we're hoping to acheive with this, whether we achieve it or not," Jakobsson said. "It definitely moves it in a direction of actually even being more than a deterrent, but being a positive outreach, to the extent that that's possible."
City council members will do an 18-month review in Jan. 2013. Alderwoman Heather Stevenson voted down the measure, saying the issue weighs heavily on civil liberties. She suggested that the public as well as police officers should learn more about existing laws.
Mayor Laurel Prussing and Alderman Dennis Roberts did not attend Monday's council meeting.
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson was one of just three Illinois Republicans to vote down the plan to raise the federal debt limit.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Johnson said the legislation "falls far short of making the fundamental structural reforms and the fundamental spending reductions necessary to get our nation working again."
GOP freshman Reps. Randy Hultgren and Joe Walsh also voted 'no.'
"Washington's spendthrift habits are the reason 87 Republicans were swept into the House in 2010," Johnson said. "That frustration has not changed. I also find it regrettable that under his new plan, Congress won't be able to revisit the debt ceiling until 2013."
Republican supporters of the plan included Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois' 11th District, and John Shimkus of Illinois' 19th District. Democrats Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago and Jan Schakowsky of Evanston opposed the plan.
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)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
As lawmakers in Washington scramble to vote on a debt ceiling compromise, Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he is keeping a close eye on the state's finances.
Rutherford said rising interest rates are helping the state earn more than expected in investments.
President Barack Obama and Congress reached a tentative deal Sunday. The Senate and House still need to vote on a plan by August 2nd, or risk defaulting on its loan obligations.
Rutherford said Monday the state earned $22,000 in interest more than typical for such a trading day. The Republican noted that interest rates have been increasing since early last week amid concerns about the debt-ceiling debate in Washington.
Rutherford said the state will have about $7 billion to invest over the next month.
"The worst case scenario is we would move that $7 billion into zero interest, meaning we gain no interest, but it would be FDIC secured," he said.
Rutherford said if if the debt ceiling isn't raised in time, he is ready to move the state's investment portfolio to 'no interest' accounts. Doing so he said could ensure that the General Assembly has the funds it needs for certain programs.
"The General Assembly has appropriated moneys, and whatever cash they have is what they use to pay the bills," Rutherford said. "Where we come in at is making sure it's secure and that if we can draw additional interest. We have benefit to try to add more into the treasury because of those interests."
Rutherford's staff had about $3 billion that was liquid and available for investment Monday, including $1 billion from the state's portfolio. He joined his investment staff for trading Monday morning.
Rutherford said Illinois is getting about a 50 percent reduction in federal dollars compared to last year. He wouldn't comment on whether he supports the deficit-cutting plan unveiled Sunday, but he said he is anxious to see the debt ceiling raised so that billions of federal dollars continue flowing to the state.
Sales of homes, jewelry and other assets that once belonged to a former Decatur resident convicted of investment fraud have raised more than $7 million. But that's less than a third of the money William Huber was convicted of stealing.
The (Decatur) Herald & Review reports (http://bit.ly/pVqG6C) that court documents indicate most of Huber's former assets have been found and sold.
That includes homes in Florida and California as well as cars and clothes. One of the more recent sales was $39,000 worth of jewelry.
Huber was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December after he pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that stole $23 million from investors.
Huber is now 62 and in prison in California. He's appealing his sentence claiming it's too long.
Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana was one of only 22 Republicans to vote against a debt-reduction measure backed by GOP leadership.
In a release late Friday after the House floor vote, Johnson said the deal calls for spending cuts years into the future, but there are no promises they'd actually be made.
"This plan offers no concrete plan to reform entitlements, and perhaps most importantly, continues to protect our bloated defense spending, including funding of an illegal incursion into Libya," Johnson said in the release.
The Republican has also frequently voiced his opposition to continued US military involvement in Afghanistan.
Despite Johnson's no vote, Republicans muscled legislation to extend the government's borrowing authority and cutting spending through the House over solid Democratic opposition.
The 218-210 vote sets up a confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama, who say the GOP-written measure will die in the Senate. They say the bill would wreak economic havoc because it would force lawmakers to vote on another extension of the debt ceiling early next year, in the heat of presidential and congressional campaigns.
Administration officials say Congress must find a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. That could prompt an unprecedented federal default, which could rattle the economy with shocks such as higher interest rates.
Johnson joined fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in opposition -- Walsh has been vocally opposed to raising the debt ceiling, at one point accusing President Obama of lying about the severity of the consequences of missing the August 2 deadline.
(with help from The Associated Press)
More than three dozen Illinois mayors signed a letter Friday urging President Obama and members of Congress to take action on the nation's debt ceiling crisis, or risk another recession.
They say if lawmakers don't reach an agreement on a debt-limit solution before the Aug. 2 deadline, basic city services that rely on federal funding may not get supported. At that time, the Treasury Department will be forced to prioritize its spending commitments.
St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler said he is concerned about highway construction projects that could be put on hold in his town if the debt ceiling is not raised.
"So, if people can't get to your town, they're sure as hell ain't going to build anything," Hackler said. "It got to be resolved. They got to unite together in some fashion to solve this problem."
Hackler also expressed concern about funding for water and sewer projects in St. Joseph.
Meanwhile, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is concerned about the impact on Social Security and Medicare payments. He said he is also worried federal funding for Danville's Mass Transit District could be jeopardized.
"Right now we are experiencing 50,000 riders a month," Eisenhauer explained. "If in fact that program were to be reduced or halted in any way, how will those individuals get to places where they need to be?"
Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said not raising the debt ceiling could put a damper on job growth and economic development in his city.
"You know, trying to get our job growth back up and our economic development, I think that's just one of the key factors," Gerard said. "It's hard to move forward with recruiting new business if we're not sure we can keep our roads and our infrastructure in shape."
Others mayors to sign the letter included Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Laurel Prussing of Urbana.
In a statement, the Treasury Department did not provide details on the bills it would pay should the government default on its debt obligations. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to come together on a plan that can pass the House and that he can sign into law.
(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.
Informal talks continue that may allow Parkland College to take over the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation in three years.
The U of I's Board of Trustees voted last week to shut it down, once current students complete the program in 2014. The Institute's Interim Director, Tom Emanuel, met Wednesday with Interim Chancellor Robert Easter for what he calls a preliminary conversation.
Emanuel said the next step is for administrators at both schools to meet, and see if Parkland's finances will allow such a transfer. Those meetings likely will not happen until the fall semester starts. But Emanuel said Parkland could offer courses in addition to flight training.
"I do know Parkland has some interest in looking at a broader aviation program that would include maybe some other things, even conceivably, something with aviation mechanics... I just heard that through the grapevine literally," Emanuel said. "But it makes sense. Aviation is the second largest money producer in the state of Illinois after agriculture."
Easter said he holds out hope that flight training would have a future locally beyond 2014.
"Having a quality program locally available for students coming to the University of Illinois with an interest in learning flying skills," he said. "Proceeding to certification (with Parkland) would be a real plus. And so our interest is if there's a way we can facilitate that, as I told the Board (of Trustees) last week, we will do that."
Easter called last Thursday's decision to close the Institute one of the tougher days in his role of administrator, but said it was the right one to allow for the growth of other programs on the Urbana campus. Administrators say closing Aviation would save $750,000 in a program suffering from declining enrollment.
Emanuel said any arrangement with Parkland would have to be done on smaller scale, since Parkland is a two-year institution and doesn't have the authority to offer a baccalaureate degree. And Emanuel said the Institute's aircraft belong to the U of I's Board of Trustees, and cannot be transferred to a community college. But Emanuel said he believes some arrangement could be made for Parkland to use the planes if everything else falls into place.
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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