Illinois Public Media News
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
Officials with the Federal Reserve say they're committed to returning to Washington with proposals for modifying mortgage loans, and foreclosure mediation. But they also want to hear more from communities hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis.
In Decatur over the weekend, about 500 people from the region heard from the enterprise that creates monetary policy. They also had a chance to apply pressure for changes in lending practices. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign has survived another financial crisis. Financial officer Judy Stoll says Ameren has dropped its threat to cut off the homeless shelter's electricity --- now that they've caught up with their bill.
"Because of the generous outpouring of the community and the churches and private donations", says Stoll, "we have been able to get caught up with Ameren. and I actually paid the last of the Ameren bill off on Monday. We're also trying to get some of the other utility bills caught up".
Stoll says more than 25-thousand dollars has come to Restoration Urban Ministries since last month, when residents of the shelter came to a Champaign City Council meeting to ask for help --- and Ameren warned of a power cutoff if bills weren't paid. First amendment issues prevent the city of Champaign from giving money to the faith-based shelter. But Stoll says contributions are still coming in from the public. She says that helps make up for a 30-to-40 percent dip in donations to Restoration earlier this year.
The organization currently shelters about 91 people in a former motel on Champaign's northwest side, and provides them with life skills classes to help them get back on their feet.
Stoll says supporters of Restoration Urban Ministries are launching their own efforts to keep the donations coming in. Those efforts include a Facebook page, titled "Help Save Restoration Ministries". Pastor Vincent Elam is hosting the page, and asking 25-thousand people to give a dollar each to help out.
Unemployment has risen in all 12 Illinois metropolitan areas.
Figures released by the state Thursday show the highest jobless rate in June was 14 percent, in the Rockford metro area. That's up from 13.4 percent in May and more than 5 percentage points higher than last June.
Local jobless figures were released one week after the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the statewide unemployment rate hit a 26-year high 10.3 percent.
Besides Rockford, other metro areas with unemployment rates above 10 percent in June were Chicago-Naperville-Joliet at 11.3 percent, Danville at 10.9 percent, Decatur at 11.3 percent and the Kankakee-Bradley at 11.1 percent.
Here's a look at rates for June and May:<
Metro area June Rate MayRate
Bloomington-Normal: 6.7 6.0
Champaign-Urbana: 7.8 6.7
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet: 11.3 10.7
Danville: 10.9 10.1
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island 7.6 6.9
Decatur: 11.3 10.0
Kankakee-Bradley: 11.1 10.6
Lake-Kenosha: 9.2 8.7
Peoria: 9.6 8.9
Rockford: 14.0 13.4
Springfield: 6.9 6.3
St. Louis (Ill. area): 9.0 8.2
Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security
Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.
The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.
"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."
The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.
State Senator Dan Rutherford is making it official --- he's running for state treasurer.
The Pontiac Republican is holding press conferences around the state Monday to announce his candidacy. But he's already posted his statement on his YouTube page.
Rutherford blames Democrats for Illinois' financial mess, including high taxes in Chicago and Cook County, and the push by the governor and state Senate Democrats to raise the state income tax."I believe it's time", says Rutherford in his YouTube statement, "that the chief financial officer of the state of Illinois stand up and articulate those types of concerns and problems, and show that there has to be a rational path to follow."
Rutherford says the best solution to Illinois' financial troubles is job creation --- and he promises to push a job creation policy as treasurer.
Rutherford also used his campaign announcement to take a swipe at the current treasurer, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. He cited the purchase by the treasurer's office of a 26-thousand dollar hybrid SUV, using money from the Bright Start college education savings program, and said it's something he would never allow as state treasurer. Giannoulias is expected to run for Senate next year, not treasurer. But his chief of staff, former lawmaker Robin Kelly, is a possible Democratic choice for the officer.
Rutherford is an executive with the ServiceMaster Company, and a state senator since 2002. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, and say that, plus his business experience, will help him be an effective treasurer.
Illinois is leading the nation in bank failures so far this year, and a banking group warns that more failures are likely.
Regulators say the state's top ranking is largely because Illinois has more banks than any other state.
Illinois has seen 12 banks fail in 2009. The next highest is Georgia with nine failures and then California with six. Six of the Illinois failures came last week with the shut down of six banks owned by a single company, including Danvulle's First National Bank and John Warner Bank in Clinton.
Experts say they were brought down by investments that went bad. All have reopened with new owners. The Illinois Bankers Association says Illinois has far more banks than any other state, so more failures are likely.
State regulators closed six Illinois banks owned by one holding company on Thursday. Banks in Danville, Clinton and four other Illinois cities have been handed over to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is arranging to have them reopen Monday under new owners.
The First National Bank of Danville became the 50th FDIC-insured bank to fail this year, and the 11th in Illinois, when it was placed in receivership yesterday by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The bank will reopen Monday as part of First Financial Bank of Terre Haute.
Regulators also closed the John Warner Bank in Clinton --- it reopens Monday as part of the State Bank of Lincoln.
Other banks scheduled to reopen under new owners are the First State Bank of Winchester, Founders Bank in Worth, Rock River Bank in Oregon and the Elizabeth State Bank.
All six banks were part of the Founders Group, based in Worth, a Chicago suburb. An FDIC news release says the banks failed because they lost too much money to bad loans, including investments in collateralized debt obligations.
Two of the Founders Group's banks, in Gilman and Peotone, are NOT affected.
The FDIC says depositors will not lose any money due to the closures, and can still access their money over the weekend by ATM or debit card, or by writing checks. The federal agency has set up toll-free numbers to call for more information about the bank closures. The number for the First National Bank of Danville is 1-800-591-2817. The number for the John Warner Bank is 1-800-837-0215. The phone numbers will be operational on Friday and Saturday from 9 AM to 6 PM, Sunday from 12 PM to 6 PM, and thereafter from 8 AM to 8 PM (all times CDT). More information is also available on the FDIC website, at www.fdic.gov.
The six Illinois banks --- plus one in Texas --- that were placed in receivership bring to 52 the number of FDIC-insured banks that have been closed this year.
The University of Illinois' monthly gauge of economic performance has hit its lowest point since it was established 14 years ago.
But the author of the Flash Index says the current recession still hasn't reached the depths of the early 1980's economic slowdown. Economist Fred Giertz also says there are promising signs that the recession may be approaching an end, perhaps by the end of the year. Even so, Giertz says statistics before then are bound to get slightly worse.
"Some of the things that go into the Index don't turn around very rapidly," says Giertz, "in particular, employment, which has a lot to do with the individual income tax collections. So this is not a surprise. I think the only surprise would be that it went down a little bit more than might be expected."
The U of I Flash Index measures Illinois tax proceeds to evaluate the state of the economy. With any number above 100 suggesting economic growth, the June rate checked in at only 92. That's more than two points lower than May.
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