Illinois Public Media News
Elizabeth Garcia says food stamps allow her to feed her three children.
The Mahomet woman's family is one of the record 780,000 Illinois households who relied on food stamps in June. The state Department of Human Services says the economy is the primary reason more people than ever are using food stamps.
Garcia's family lives mainly on her boyfriend's $540 a month in restaurant wages. She hasn't been able to find work. The 32-year-old says food stamps mean her kids eat healthy food.
But Alana Sykes of Rantoul found out Monday that even her unemployment benefits are too high for her to qualify. Sykes lost her job in state layoffs late last year. And she says those unemployment benefits aren't enough to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
Gov. Pat Quinn has provided new details on his plans to slash state spending, including the decision to cut far more from social services.
The agency that handles Medicaid will lose $216 million, or about 2.7 percent. Last month, Quinn said the agency would be one of the few to actually get more money. The Department of Human Services is being cut by $576 million, or 14 percent. Originally, the department was going to lose just $312 million. Funding for higher education is listed at more than 2.1 billion dollars in 2011, a $105 million dollar decrease. The governor's office says much of that decrease is in the form of federal stimulus money that won't be received next year.
Illinois faces the worst budget deficit in state history, roughly $12 billion. Quinn plans at least $1.4 billion in spending cuts to help reduce the shortfall.
A newspaper article in the Chicago area has leaders in Decatur worrying about the status of a major employer.
British company Tate & Lyle can trace its roots in Decatur back to 1909 and the A. E. Staley Company. Its US headquarters is in one of the city's tallest buildings, next to its factory on Decatur's east side. But Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday that Tate & Lyle has taken interest in an office building in suburban Hoffman Estates.
A Tate and Lyle spokeswoman has told media outlets that no decision has been made on a headquarters move. But Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady says economic development leaders need to keep in touch with the company to press the argument for staying where it is.
"Tate and Lyle would at this point not confirm that they were looking at any buildings in Hoffman Estates, just that they are looking at all of their business functions," McCrady said. "So I imagine that time is of the essence, and we're going to move as fast as possible."
McCrady says that includes reminding the company of Decatur's quality-of-life benefits for employees. But he says there may not be many economic incentives for the city to offer if Tate and Lyle moves within the state of Illinois.
Tate and Lyle employs up to 800 people in Decatur, but McCrady says that includes both the headquarters and the factory, and the factory location is not in question.
The July reading of the University of Illinois Flash Economic Index was 91.6. That's three tenths of a percent better than the measurement for June, but economist Fred Giertz says it's still well below the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction.
Giertz says Illinois and the nation are mired in the longest and deepest recession since the end of World War II, and it will take time to recover. He says the state's unemployment rate is falling but still above the national rate.
The Flash Index measures state collections each month from personal income, corporate and sales taxes - it found that while income and sales tax revenue were down in July, corporate tax receipts were up.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security is urging Illinois residents who need to certify for unemployment insurance benefits to do so through the Internet, rather than the telephone.
IDES said Friday that flooding at a telephone switching station in Chicago has interrupted its telephone service, but not its Internet access. Department spokesman Greg Rivera said that although the outage blamed on recent heavy rains is only local, it has interrupted telephone certifications statewide.
Certifying for the benefits is required before unemployment payments can be issued.
Rivera said Internet certification can be accomplished at www.ides.state.il.us. He said applicants should use a drop-down menu in the upper right corner of the Web site.
Rivera said people without Internet access are encouraged to go to a local library or their local IDES office.
The Mahomet-Seymour school district's teacher union is a step closer to going on strike after filing an intent-to-strike notice on Thursday. The teacher's union is working with the school board to re-negotiate teacher contracts. Joan Jordan is co-president of the teacher's union.
"I've taught all these years, and I do not want my last year to go out with a strike," said Jordan, who plans on retiring after nearly 35 years as a teacher in the school district. "There has to be a point of respect of what you do."
Jordan said she hopes a revamped contract for teachers includes a pay increase. A strike could take place by the time students return to class next month if the two sides fail to reach an agreement.
Terry Greene, president of the Mahomet-Seymour School Board, said he has met with the teacher's union a couple of times, and he hopes to negotiate a fair contract. Greene said given the state's financial crisis, the board is going to "take a very dim view of spending" to avoid future cuts to programs and staff. The union's contract expires August 17th.
Bobby Seale co-founded the controversial Black Panther Party in 1966. The Panthers preached a doctrine of militant black empowerment to end to all forms of oppression against black people. The Black Panther Party was dismantled after 20 years, and Seale and others have taken on non-violent activism. Seale stopped in Champaign to talk to local teachers. He spoke to Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the Party's legacy and how changes in the world have shaped his activism.
Illinois, along with 18 other states, is still in the running for a competitive federal grant program that promises more than three billion dollars for educational improvements.
The Illinois State Board of Education said the funds will help raise student success and train qualified teachers. The state failed to win enough support from school districts to compete for the first round of "Race to the Top" funding earlier this year - instead, that money went to schools in Tennessee and Maryland. Beth Sheppard is an assistant superintendent in Champaign Unit 4, which is backing Illinois' bid for the money.
"We felt that there was no good reason not to seek the additional funding in these economic times," said Sheppard. "If the focus is on closing the achievement gap, that is a high priority in this school district."
Teachers' unions have also lined up behind the application. State schools Superintendent Christopher Koch said the state has worked harder to get cooperation from local school districts and teachers' unions during this phase of the competition. Koch said Illinois will emphasize its plans to better prepare school leaders for reform when officials visit Washington in August to make their pitch for a grant.
Four communities in East Central Illinois saw slight increases in the jobless rate between May and June.
The state's Department of Employment Security says Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Bloomington-Normal, and Decatur all saw that figure go up more than a percentage point. Danville and Decatur's unemployment rates were among the highest last month - at 12.3 and 12.2%. Champaign-Urbana's unemployment rate went from 7.8 to 9.5%, while Bloomington Normal's from 6.9 to 8.0%. Those rates in all four metropolitan areas are also higher than they were in June of 2009.
But the agency says overall, rates appear to be going down, citing a drop in rates in and around Chicago over last year. Director Maureen O'Donnell says a trend of smaller increases are encouraging, noting specific movement must occur before jobless rates drop consistently across the state. "Any economic rebound following the most profound recession in decades will include slight up-and-down movements in the unemployment rate as well as the number of jobs created,' said O'Donnell. "That is why long-term trends continue to offer the best guidance on our national and state economy."
Elsewhere in Central Illinois, Peoria's unemployment rate for June was 10.3%, holding steady from the previous month, and Springfield's was 8.2%, up from 7.3%
Governor Pat Quinn has responded to outrage over raises he gave to high-level advisers by cutting their pay, but many other state employees will see their paychecks reduced as well.
The Governor used extra powers given to him to get Illinois through the budget crisis by ordering a pay cut he says amounts to 9.2 percent. Quinn says he'll set the example -- he and anyone working directly for him must take 24 unpaid days off.
"I am a diligent hard-working governor," said Quinn. "I understand that we're in difficult circumstances. So I'm cutting my own pay."
State workers who aren't in a union, such as agency heads, managers, and policy staff, must also take 24 furlough days.
Quinn's action comes after revelations that he doled out salary hikes averaging about 11% to 35 members of his staff, including a raise for his budget director. Republicans called on Quinn to roll back the pay increases.
While making his announcement, Quinn also challenged state legislators to double the 12 furlough days they're supposed to take. He also wants the state's largest public employees union, AFSCME, to agree to furloughs.
An AFSCME spokesman says the union will hear what Quinn has to say, but adds that employees are already overworked even as the economy has increased demand for state services. AFSCME and Quinn are currently working under a deal that encourages voluntary furloughs. It also saves the state money by deferring a portion of the pay increases members were scheduled to receive through a contract that was negotiated by former Governor Rod Blagojevich's administration.
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