Illinois Public Media News
Postcards are in the mail to Illinois low-income senior citizens eligible to ride free on public transit.
The Department on Aging announced Wednesday the postcards went to seniors enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program.
Those seniors remain eligible for free rides on public buses and trains.
Free rides are ending for other seniors, although they'll still get reduced fares. Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in February to limit the "Seniors Ride Free" program to low-income seniors.
Seniors in the Circuit Breaker program may need to contact their local public transit agency for a free ride card.
To qualify for Circuit Breaker assistance, an applicant's total income for 2010 must be less than $27,610 for a household size of one.
(Photo courtesy of erekslater/Flickr)
President Barack Obama is praising a bipartisan deal that will end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and get thousands of workers back on the job.
Obama says the nation "can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery.''
He says he's pleased to see leaders in Congress working together to settle the issue.
The FAA flap has become another embarrassment for the federal government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal to extend the FAA's operating authority through mid-September. Under the plan, the Senate will approve a House bill that includes a contentious provision cutting $16.5 million in subsidies for rural communities. Democrats say the administration will use authority under the deal to waive those cuts.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois-based Kraft Foods announced Thursday that it plans to split into two separate companies by the end of next year.
One company would focus on international growth by selling snack products, like Oreo cookies, Trident gum, and Cadbury chocolates. The snacks business is estimated to have revenue of about $32 billion.
The other part of the company would stick to the North American grocery business, which would include Kraft cheese and Maxwell House coffee. Kraft estimates revenue of approximately $16 billion for that part of the company.
"Our strategic actions have put us in a position to create two great companies, each with the leadership, resources and strong market positions to realize their full potential," Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld said in statement.
The move by Kraft comes at a time when other companies, including Wal-Mart and Target, are trying to respond to one-stop shopping needs by adding more grocery store choices. University of Illinois finance professor Heitor Almeida said Kraft's decision is a smart one because it'll allow the company to spend more time focusing on opportunities for growth.
"It should be ok for the company as a whole, including the employees and everything," Almeida said. "I guess one concern is whether the North American grocery business might become a target for an acquisition for another company because it's clearly the less glamorous one."
While investors reacted well to the news, analysts were skepticism about the strategy and as to whether the deal, when fully formed, will provide shareholder value. Some analysts question the split of what they see as overlapping businesses.
"We are surprised,'' said Morningstar analyst Matt Arnold. "It's definitely a change in philosophy; they used to say we will win with scale. It's tough to say if there is pressure from investors."
Aside from the spinoff plans, Kraft announced that its second-quarter earnings climbed 4 percent to $976 million, or 55 cents per share, from $937 million, or 53 cents per share, a year ago. The food maker's stock gained 92 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $35.22 in premarket trading.
Kraft runs a major food processing plant in Champaign. The company says there are no immediate plans to change its operations in the state.
For the first time in its history, all of the leaders of the University of Illinois' three individual campuses will be women. A search committee has picked University of Washington provost and vice president Phyllis Wise to head the Urbana-Champaign campus starting in October, if the board of trustees gives its likely approval. She will receive a $500,000 annual salary with another $100,000 set aside each of the next five years. She will receive that money if she remains at the U of I's Urbana campus that long.
Wise spoke to Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers. She said her role as a researcher will inform her administrative decisions.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn continues to meet with those who have an interest in gaming legislation lawmakers approved earlier this year.
Quinn said he is listening to both critics and supporters of a plan to add 5 new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Lake County and Chicago's south suburbs. The measure would also allow slot machines at Chicago airports and at horse tracks, including the State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
"Last Friday I saw the Rockford people," Quinn said. "This Friday I am seeing the horsemen and people involved in raising horses. There are others who are interested in the bill, both pro and con. I think there are some strong critics of the bill that are on our schedule. I want to make sure everyone gets their voice heard."
Quinn has been critical of the gaming expansion, saying it is "top heavy." However, he has said he is willing to consider a Chicago casino if it is done properly.
Supporters say the gaming legislation will bring a revenue windfall to the state. But opponents warn it lacks regulatory safeguards and should be rejected.
The Chicago Crime Commission has criticized the legislation, calling it "flawed" and saying it will lead to corruption. The watchdog group said Wednesday that Quinn shouldn't sign the law because it cannot be successfully implemented.
Lawmakers passed the legislation in May, but Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has a legislative "hold'' on it so lawmakers can try to work out a deal. With that hold in place, Quinn cannot act on the bill.
"The senate president continues to talk to the governor about what specific concerns he there might be, if there is a need to go back in and tighten up various language," Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said.
But sources say Cullerton will send the bill to Quinn's desk by the end of the month, regardless of a possible veto from Quinn.
If Quinn vetoes or changes the bill, the General Assembly will need to pass it again. The veto session starts the last week in October.
Bids will be opened this Friday from contractors competing for a construction project at Willard Airport near Champaign, but any actual work will have to wait until Congress agrees on temporary financing for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA has been partially shut down since July 23. Congress took its August recess without resolving a dispute over the FAA, and won't be back in Washington until after Labor Day.
Willard Airport Director Steve Wanzek said he will work with the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics to complete the necessary paperwork at the state and local level - in the hope that Congress will act quickly enough to allow the FAA to approve the project in September.
"We'll do all the paperwork, get all the grant application, all of that stuff through the state," Wanzek said. "You know, that takes a couple of weeks anyway. So we may lose a week or two --- assuming that if they (Congress) met on Labor Day, after Labor Day and take this on --- you know, something approved --- we would be able to be issued a grant fairly quickly."
Meanwhile, the Decatur Airport has already received federal funding for an upcoming ramp rehabilitation project, according to airport director Joe Atwood. He said FAA's partial shutdown will not prevent that project from going forward. But he said he will be watching activity in Washington when Congress returns in September
Atwood will also be keeping an eye on what Congress decides to do about the Essential Air Service program, which helps underwrite air passenger service at the Decatur Airport. Efforts in the Senate to restore FAA funding broke down Tuesday over a GOP proposal to cut money for that program.
The Essential Air Service program provides money to help airports in small cities attract and keep air service. The Decatur Airport is funded by the program, as are airports in Quincy and Marion.
Atwood said it is strange that the program is being debated now, because its funding isn't part of the federal budget.
"The money comes from the Aviation Trust Fund, and it doesn't affect the General Treasury," Atwood said. "It's not a general Treasury budget item. So even if they eliminate the program, they don't effectively eliminate the resulted expense from the treasury. They can cut the program out, they still haven't saved anything."
Atwood stresses that the debate in Congress over Essential Air Service funding is about the program as a whole, and doesn't focus on the Decatur Airport in particular.
The partial shutdown at the FAA does not affect air traffic controllers.
Both Atwood at the Decatur Airport and Wanzek at Willard Airport say their day-to-day operations will continue as usual.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation increasing penalties for convicted felons who are found carrying guns.
Under the law, signed Tuesday, felons convicted of unlawful use or possession of a weapon face two to 10 years behind bars.
Additional violations by felons caught with guns while on parole or supervised release will carry a sentence of three to 14 years in prison.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz of Chicago and Rep. Michael Zalewski of Summit, both Democrats, in response to the shooting death of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham. He was killed outside his home during an attempted robbery last year. Suspects in his death had previous gun charge convictions.
In signing the bill, Quinn said the law will ensure safer neighborhoods for families across Illinois.
A new law means shelters will have to try harder to reunite lost pets with their owners.
The legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed Wednesday requires shelters to scan twice for microchips. The first scan would be within 24 hours of the animal's arrival and a second scan before it's adopted, transferred or euthanized.
Shelters also are required to reach out to the person registered with the animal's microchip by phone or email. Currently they only need to send a letter, a process that can be ineffective if the owner has moved.
Quinn says pets are part of people's families and the state wants to do everything possible to reunite lost animals with their owners.
Quinn's own dog, Bailey, recently died.
The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
A University of Washington administrator and researcher is in line to be the next chancellor at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus.
Phyllis Wise is currently the provost and executive vice president at Washington. A selection committee picked her after a nine-month search.
Wise said she almost disregarded her chance to take the job. When she first heard about the U of I vacancy, she said she was Washington's interim president, and she was preoccupied with that role.
"Later on when the search was still ongoing and we had selected a president here, I thought for heaven sakes I should at least look into this," Wise said. "And the more and more I learned, the more interested I got, and I think the rest is history."
If U of I trustees approve at their next meeting Sept. 9, Wise will take over Oct. 1 for interim Chancellor Robert Easter. Easter had taken the post after former Chancellor Richard Herman resigned following an admissions scandal in 2009.
University President Michael Hogan praised Wise's experience and academic record.
"We're not hiring her as a researcher and a teacher, but if you're going to lead a major campus like our Urbana campus, having research and teaching credentials like she has gives her a high degree of credibility with one of her most important constituencies, and that's the faculty, including the deans," Hogan said.
Illinois' last permanent chancellor, Richard Herman, was paid $400,000 a year when he resigned in 2009.
Hogan confirmed that Wise will earn $500,000 per year and $100,000 per year deferred if she stays in the position for five years. Hogan said the base salary is close to what Herman would have earned at this point had he stayed on as chancellor, and is "a little up from the middle of the pack from chancellors in the Big Ten."
Wise has been at Washington for the last six years. She specializes in women's health and gender-based physiology. If approved, all three U of I chancellors will be women for the first time.
(Photo courtesy of University of Washington)
Seven Illinois residents have been sickened by a nationwide outbreak of salmonella that authorities say could be from ground turkey.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture, to try to nail down the exact source of the contamination.
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said it will be a very complicated process.
"It does take quite a lot of time to do the trace back just because of all the steps -- first of all recognizing that there is one particular type of strain of salmonella out there and then trying to make that link -- there are so many different steps and so many interviews that need to occur that it does take time," Arnold said.
According to Arnold, until a source is identified, Illinois residents can still buy ground turkey. Arnold recommends residents prepare and handle the meat safely, cooking the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as people take the right precautions, she said, they should be fine.
Across the country, a total of 77 people have been affected by the strain, leading to one death. In Illinois, the first case was reported to the state's Department of Public Health in March, and the most recent case was reported on June 29.
The USDA has yet to recall any turkey products in relation to the outbreak.
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