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.
Champaign County Board members will take at least a month to review the prospect of a coal mine located below farmland in the southeast part of the county.
The County Board's Committee of the Whole has asked County Zoning Administrator John Hall to look into what other counties have done to locate and zone mines. Board members tabled discussion on the issue until September. It is still not clear if the county's zoning ordinance would have to be amended, or could block the mine. Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal has started purchasing mineral rights for locating a mine on Champaign County's border with Vermilion County, in an area south of Homer. County Board member Steve Beckett said doing some homework away from board meetings will let members make some headway on the issue.
"Right now, we have this loosey-goosey collection of anecdotal comments from board members who've had phone calls with people and worried public, etc," said Beckett. "And it's almost as if we're like this little knitting circle, and 'let's all talk about mining and how terrible it is.' I don't find that to be very fruitful and helpful to me as a board member."
Critics of the plan include Vermilion County farmer Charles Goodall. He said he believes the resulting waste water from washing coal on site would leave toxic elements in the soil and groundwater. A resident of Broadlands, Heather Soder, said she wants Sunrise to be more upfront about its plans for waste products in the mine, and its impact on well water.
Soder said she spoke with someone from the company who could not answer her questions. Sunrise has not returned calls to comment.
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.
Workers rights advocates are praising an Illinois bill that promises to speed up the process of how wage theft claims are processed.
Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Friday. It stiffens penalties for employers who shortchange or don't pay workers.
The law also gives the Illinois Department of Labor have more oversight in dealing with the 10,000-plus wage theft claims it gets annually.
The agency will have a designated division and fund to deal directly with claims of $3,000 or less.
Chris Williams is director of Chicago's Working Hands Legal Clinic. He says the changes speed up the process, particularly for those who need it most.
Experts say wage theft is an increasing problem in the downturned economy, particularly for low wage and immigrant workers.
Jurors deliberating for a third day at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have asked if it is possible to receive transcripts of witness testimony.
Judge James Zagel told attorneys Friday that he'd say jurors could receive specific transcripts of specific testimony, and that compiling transcripts would take time.
Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky alluded to the fact that only the prosecution presented witnesses. He told Zagel that providing all transcripts would amount to presenting the entire prosecution again.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges that include trying to sell or trade the nomination to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.
Zagel also dismissed a mistrial motion filed by the defense.
The last in a series of roundtable discussions on an extension of Olympian Drive looked at design options for one day linking the road with US 45 north of Urbana.
But last night's discussion among elected officials from Champaign County, Urbana, and Champaign also produced frustration with the way the forum was conducted, and the lack of cost estimates. The final roundtable discussion held by consultants was described as a private meeting with a public audience. Democratic County Board member Barb Wysocki says she's frustrated that very differing opinions on what should occur with the extension are being 'squashed.' And Wysocki said last night she was disappointed the consultants hadn't read the visioning document for Champaign County called Big-Small-All, a process she helped create. "Those who stuck with the process gave very good input," said Wysocki. "And they were thoughtul, they weighed matters, they were very careful about how they come up with goals and objectives. And for them to admit that they (consultants with Vector Communications) hadn't read it or even heard of it until this (Thursday) afternoon, to me it's unthinkable."
Champaign city council member Deb Frank Feinen, a Republican, agrees the public are being left out of this process, and wants citizens to weigh in on some of the design options. "There may be pieces of this that could qualify for special funding," said Feinen. "I mean, maybe the biker pedestrian or wetlands would qualify for funding we haven't even begun to think about yet. But we have to know that we want that included in the plan in order to go seek that funding."
The $27-point-5 million extension of Olympian Drive could be done in phases, starting with a stretch from Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue. But Democratic Champaign County board member Alan Kurtz contends funding for the full extension would run around $35-million. He says the county has better uses for its motor fuel tax money, including road and bridge repairs. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive project was always meant to be done in phases. "We have enough funding to do this project if you look at it as taking place over time," said Prussing. "We have money coming in every year to the county, they get $3 million in motor fuel tax funds, and can allocate about a third of that to fringe roads, which this would qualify for. And I think we should be asking our Congressman for federal money for Lincoln Avenue."
Prussing says the logical way of doing this project would be to extend Apollo Drive in Champaign to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, extend Lincoln out to 45, then finish up the west end of the project, extending to I-57. The extension would also rely on Illinois Capital bill funds, and request from the upcoming federal transportation bill. Consultants expect to hold another meeting on August 25th to begin forming a consensus.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn called for the special election Thursday after a recent court ruling found it's required by the constitution and Roland Burris' appointment is only temporary. To avoid the cost of a second election, the vote will happen on the same day as the already scheduled general, November 2nd. So voters will cast two ballots for U.S. Senators that day, one for the upcoming six year term, and one for the few weeks that will remain in the Obama/Burris term.
But there's no time before November 2nd to hold a primary to figure out who will run to be Senator for a month. It's a problem that attorneys and the federal court judge are trying to work out. A likely solution is that the candidates running for the six year term will also run in the special election. Those candidates would include Mark Kirk, Alexi Giannoulias, LeAlan Jones, and the independents who collected more than 25,000 signatures.
An attorney for Burris is fighting against the special election.
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