Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Number of IL Families on Food Stamps Jumps 12 Percent, Sets New Record

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.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Quinn Provides New Detail on 2011 Budget Cuts

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 04, 2010

Champaign County Board Wants More Info on Coal Mines Elsewhere

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 03, 2010

Decatur’s Tate & Lyle Reportely Considering Moving US Headquarters

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 02, 2010

Economic Index Shows Improvement, but It’s Still a Long Way Up for IL

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 31, 2010

Flooding Disrupts Unemployment Telephones

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.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Weekend Training for Emergency Workers Focuses on Farm Accidents

A fatal accident inside a grain bin this week in northwest Illinois underlines just how dangerous it can be to work in the agriculture industry.

Firefighters, paramedics and other emergency workers are taking part in a three-day workshop on responding to farm-related emergencies.

Amy Rademaker is a farm safety expert with Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, which is hosting the event. She says this week's incident occurred at a grain elevator that's subject to a number of safety regulations. But individually-owned grain bins present special problems.

"Those safety practices may not be implemented -- they're not required by OSHA standards unless you have so many employees," Rademaker said. "So it's different when you talk about an elevator versus on-farm storage. But we do have a lot of elevators here, and so we hope they're taking precautions."

Rademaker says emergency workers this weekend are learning how to respond to grain-bin incidents as well as tractor rollovers and other accidents specific to farms. She says rural crews are obviously prime targets for training, but even urban fire and ambulance workers can be called out to help in farm-related accidents.

Categories: Community, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Conservative Alliance Says Howell Re-Hiring Should Encourage Class Debate

An attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund says the University of Illinois' decision to bring back a dismissed adjunct professor raises greater issues about speaking freely in a classroom setting.

David French says his group commends the U of I for offering Kenneth Howell his job back. But he says the ADF will continue to follow an academic committee's review of the complaint that got Howell fired in the first place. His comments about homosexuals in a lesson on Catholicism led to the e-mailed complaint from a student. Howell was re-hired Thursday. The issue still before a committee with the U of I's Faculty Senate is whether academic freedoms were violated. French says he's confident the panel will rule in Howell's favor - a decision he says should bring about further class debate across campus. "It's not supposed to be a place where there is a particular party line that is taught and professors are inflexibly living within the mandate of that particular party line at a public university," said French. "A public university is a marketplace of ideas where students should be free to engage their professors, and professors should be free to teach their subject."

French notes the protest over Howell's dismissal was generated not only by Catholics, but people of many faiths... and should do a lot to protect the comments of professors in class. He says the U of I's knee-jerk reaction to the Howell complaint affirms that students are just as concerned about academic freedoms. "I think that's one of the most encouraging aspects about this - it's the students themselves reacted so strongly to support academic freedom," said French. "Hopefully one of the good outcomes of this ordeal is that it's going to remind the university and other universities the importance of protecting professors' in-class speech."

Howell has until August 6th to accept his re-appointment to the U of I. He's traveling Friday and couldn't be reached for comment.

Categories: Education, Religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Mahomet-Seymour Teachers Consider Going on Strike

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.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2010

Gov. Quinn Signing Wage Theft Legislation

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.


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