Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Department of Corrections says the planned closure of a central Illinois prison could mean 1,500 inmates would be housed in prison gyms.
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/nPzzfO) reports the department detailed the scenario involving the medium-security Logan Correctional Center near Lincoln in a required report to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The closure also could mean crowding-related lawsuits.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called the closure unavoidable given budget cuts by lawmakers. The union representing many of the affected prison workers says the move could endanger corrections workers and inmates.
Meanwhile, the Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/q62Vqk ) reports plans to close a maximum-security state mental-health center in Chester could require hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades at sites elsewhere to accommodate patients.
The executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System says the fund is underfunded by $44 billion, but it will provide benefits for the foreseeable future.
Director Dick Ingram said the legislature took notice during the last session and gave precedence to payments to pensions.
"We became a priority and I think as long as that continues and the statutory plan that's in effect now is followed we will, in fact, be strong for the long term," Ingram said.
Ingram said the fund's total liability is $81 billion. He said the legislature's plan would put the fund at 90 percent of full funding by 2045.
Ingram also noted that while investment returns can vary last year the fund's return was about 24 percent.
Ingram added a senate bill would offer a third option for teachers to invest their retirement funds. State senate bill 512 would create a third tier for a defined-contribution plan that would resemble of 401-(K) plan. The benefits would depend on the amount invested and the return on investment.
He said the bill would also change the contributions for current teachers. Those in Tier I would see their contributions increase from 9.4% to 13.77% of their pay. Those in Tier II would see their contributions drop from 9.4 percent to 6 percent of their pay.
Ingram held an informational meeting for teachers in Macomb.
Former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson says she'll announce by the end of next week whether she's running again for the U.S. House. She would challenge U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., in the Democratic primary.
Halvorson lost her seat in Congress to Republican Adam Kinzinger last year. But when political boundaries were redrawn, her home was swallowed by the district held by Jackson, a fellow Democrat but longtime adversary of Halvorson's.
"I've decided I didn't want to keep everybody waiting," Halvorson said Tuesday. "I want to make my decision by this weekend," with a public announcement "absolutely" coming the following week.
Halvorson filed initial campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission earlier this month. She said volunteers are already circulating petitions to get her on the ballot.
This summer she registered with the state as a lobbyist. Her firm's clients include the Village of Glenwood, which she used to represent portions of in the Illinois Senate.
Halvorson acknowledged she could be helped if more people entered the primary against Jackson, and she could have her wish. Citing sources, the Roll Call newspaper claimed this week that Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale is considering running for the seat.
A Beale spokeswoman would say only that he's focusing on his work for the 9th Ward.
A spokesman for Jackson had no comment.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits Tuesday against companies she says are running fraudulent mortgage rescue schemes.
Some Chicago area companies and licensed attorneys allegedly charged consumers as much as $375,000 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. But Madigan said the companies took the money and never helped the consumers.
She said the 2006 Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act prevents companies from charging upfront fees, but lawyers are able to accept advance payment.
"The new twist on this scam is that these predators are really using lawyers as a front so that they can conceivably get around the law and collect the upfront money," Madigan said.
The Attorney General's office has filed suit against four companies accused of using this scam. The filing asks the court to shut down the businesses and get restitution for at least 76 consumers.
Madigan said homeowners should not have to pay to get help with their mortgage, and that HUD certified counselors are available for free. Homeowners can contact the Attorney General's Homeowner Helpline at (866) 544-7151.
People who live in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain.
The issue of broadband access was the spotlight of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield.
As an employee for eGrain, which specializes in electronic documents for agribusiness, Drew Earles understands the importance of a good Internet connection. But he said that's not what he gets at his home in the central Illinois countryside, where he relies on a wireless transmitter mounted on the grain elevator in nearby Mechanicsburg.
"It'd be a little less than broadband," Earles said. "At times, it's comparable to dial-up, just depending on the traffic. If you catch it early in the morning, you can usually get some things done, and view some things."
Justin Green, who grows corn and soybeans near Arthur, has it a bit easier --- with a wireless connection to the DSL service at his parents' home. Green said people working in agriculture need reliable internet service as much as anyone else.
"A lot of our commodities markets and trading and access to information and communications with landowners and other businesses, a lot of that's done via email." Green said.
Earles and Green spoke at the booth they manned for the Illinois Agriculture Leadership Foundation, at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention in Springfield. But their comments could as easily have been made across town at the University of Illinois Springfield campus. There, Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson and other members of the House Subcommittee on Rural Development were hearing testimony on rural broadband service.
Among those testifying, Sue Campbell, the CEO for Community Memorial Hospital in Staunton. She worked with a local internet provider to obtain five megabytes of broadband service for her hospital, needed for everything from transmitting electronic medical records to supplementing their limited staff with doctors who consult from off site. But Campbell said her hospital will soon need a service upgrade.
"And it won't be too long before we're going to have to consider doubling our broadband width from five megs up to ten," Campbell said.
Rural American is well behind the country's urban areas when it comes to access to broadband Internet service. Les Fowler is with the McDonough Telephone Cooperative, which has managed to bring fiber-based broadband service to parts of western Illinois. But Fowler's co-op is not-for-profit. He told the subcommittee there's just not much money for the private sector to make in rural broadband.
"There's not going to be a huge opportunity for a lot of profit taking in those scenarios," Fowler said. "So I think it's going to take a jump start from the public sector to get this going."
In fact, Fowler said McDonough Telephone's broadband service wouldn't be possible without a Rural Utility Service loan funded by the federal Farm Bill, which is up for re-authorization. Fowler said the co-op is applying for its 2nd loan through the program, a process that has, so far, taken two years. Congressman Tim Johnson said bureaucratic problems have left much of the available money unspent.
"In some cases, only five percent of it has actually emerged from the application process to be used," Fowler said. "So upwards of 90 percent hasn't been. There's a limited amount of dollars to go around, and we need to make sure that rural America, small town America gets its share."
Johnson said efforts to reduce the federal deficit will mean less money for rural broadband service next year --- so he hopes his subcommittee can use the Farm Bill rule making process to make the loan program more efficient. The Urbana Republican said addressing the broadband shortage is just one way to reverse the population decline in rural America.
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
People living in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain. The problem was a topic of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.
(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
Post Office Employees Rally at Congressional Offices
Postal service workers across the country held a "Save America's Postal Service" rally outside of Congressional district offices, urging lawmakers to support legislation that they say will help solve the post office's financial problems.
Urbana city leaders have come up with new money targeted for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors' Bureau, after the city's mayor vetoed those funds in July.
Laurel Prussing opted not to cast a vote Monday night, when the Urbana City Council initially backed funding the CVB at a much lower level. The other members unanimously backed the nearly $19-thousand in funding. The city formerly contributed $72-thousand annually. Prussing says the $18-thousand-800 in township funds could have gone for better uses, including social service agencies and what it owes for raises through the city's AFSCME union.
The mayor says she's 'appalled' at how the CVB threatened to kill funding for the Illinois Marathon in four years if Urbana didn't pledge money. Prussing says the bureau isn't in charge of the marathon, or an upcoming theater festival planned for next year at the U of I's Krannert Center.
"People come to the marathon, regardless of the CVB, and people come to the Krannert Center regardless of the CVB," she said. "So they take credit for other work that other people have done. It's kind of unfortunate. They can't give us good information on what they've actually brought to the city of Urbana."
While the city council will look for more accountability from the CVB, Alderwoman Heather Stevenson contends the agency does keep vistors in town for a while once they're here.
"People don't come to the U of I football games because of the CVB, but they do stay because of things that the CVB to make sure that people are able to enjoy their time one they're here," said Stevenson. "So those are numbers that can't be tracked."
The city council will take a final vote on the CVB funding next Monday.
PersonalCare is terminating its contract with Christie Clinic, effective January 1st.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the clinic announced the health insurance contractor's plans.
The end of the contract will impact state workers and retirees, and those connected to other PersonalCare plans.
People in Champaign County who want to have uninterrupted access to Christie Clinic physicians are being urged to switch to Health Alliance HMO coverage or Health Link's Open Access Plans in the next enrollment period.
At the 5th annual Hunger Symposium on Sept. 26, 2011 in Champaign, food insecurity took front stage.
Two million people in Illinois deal with food insecurity, and in eastern Illinois that number is about 80,000, according to a study released by the group, Feeding America. It's a problem that's being addressed through programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Local food pantries are also working hard to feed people who need food assistance. At the 5th annual Hunger Symposium on Sept. 26, 2011 in Champaign, food insecurity took front stage. The event was put on by the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and the Family Resiliency Center. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talks with Sean Powers, who attended the meeting.
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