Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families.
Every year, thousands of migrant workers come to Illinois to detassel corn and harvest crops. Often times they do not make enough money to feed themselves and their families. Language barriers are keeping these farm workers from getting the help they need.
Back in the 1980's, there was a lawsuit filed alleging that Illinois didn't provide adequate bilingual services to people applying for food stamps. That lawsuit led to a court order known as the Quinones Consent Decree. To settle the lawsuit, the state agreed to increase interpreter and translation services in public aid offices where there was a high concentration of Spanish speakers. It also allowed the state to contract with the Illinois Migrant Council to help farmworkers sign up for food stamps.
The Illinois Migrant Council currently gets about $40,500 from the Illinois Department of Human Services to maintain that program, but Eloy Salazar, the organization's executive director, said that's not enough.
"The need for the program has increased, and the funding has not kept up pace with that," Salazar said. "It's getting harder and harder for us to provide the kind of services that we need to provide because of inflation, cost of travel for the people that we hire, and that money is just not going far enough."
The council has cut the program down to two food stamp outreach coordinators in the state - one of whom is Magdalena Lopez.
Lopez's job takes her to six east central Illinois counties from Kankakee to Mattoon. Speaking at the end of August half-way through the migrant farm labor season, Lopez said she had already filled out more than 800 food stamp applications.
"When they're here, I'm here to work," Lopez said. "I'm here till all hours of the afternoon and weekends in order for them to do it on time."
One of the workers who waited to see her outside of an apartment complex on Urbana's east side was Rosando Islas, who came to Champaign County from Texas to work for Pioneer Hi-Bred.
Islas can go the local DHS office in Champaign to sign up for food stamps where there are people who can help him in Spanish. But instead he chooses to go to Lopez, in whom he has a high level of confidence that he said he cannot get anywhere else.
"I like doing it here because it's more one-on-one, everyone is more understanding of the relationship we have with her," he said. "I can confide in her knowing that she does her job really well."
Lopez also met with Aurora Garcia, who works for Pioneer. Garcia has been coming back and forth to Champaign County for the last 22 years from Texas. She typically signs up for food stamps through Lopez. But the day before she met with Lopez at the end of August, she tried to sign up at Champaign's DHS office. While the office is supposed to be staffed with permanent bilingual employees, Garcia said when she got there; no one was available to help.
"I went to DHS, and all they did was just give me the paperwork," Garcia said. "They didn't ask me to wait. They didn't tell me to look for somebody. I was a little bit angry. They didn't ask for my name. I asked for Magdalena, and they didn't answer any questions."
Lopez said she often hears stories from migrant workers who have a bad experience at a DHS office because of language barriers, confusion by people working at the front desk, or long waits. She said a group of about 40 migrants were recently turned away from the Coles County DHS office because a person who worked there said no one who spoke Spanish was available to help. That office, like the one in Champaign, does have permanent bilingual staff.
"They went back again, and the same thing happened," Lopez explained. "Then they called me and they wanted to know if the people were going to go back. I said they're probably not going to go back. She says, 'Well, we gave them applications.' I said, 'Yes, but some of them don't know how to write.'"
The DHS' Director of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, Nelida Smyser-Deleon, said no one should be turned away because of their language or background. Smyser-Deleon's office oversees the Quinones Consent Decree, the court order that allowed the state to boost its interpreter and translation services in offices that handle food stamp applications. Smyser-Deleon said even if an office isn't fully staffed with permanent bilingual employees, people who work at the front desk should at least be familiar with how to help a non-English speaker.
"They have a document in front of them, like '¿Habla Español?'" she said. "You know key things that they can ask the individual, and then have them point to the language. Then they go ahead and look for a bilingual person who speaks that language and bring them up to the front."
Smyser-Deleon said each office also has instructional posters on the walls in Spanish and English with information about food stamp rights, migrant counties, and interpreter services.
"Those are posters that are mandated through the Quinones Consent Decree that should be in every office," she said.
About 70 percent of the DHS offices that handle food stamp applications lack permanent bilingual staff across 24 counties where at least 1 in 5 Hispanics live below the poverty line and where at least 1 in 5 aren't proficient in English, according to Census Bureau estimates.
The state said at this point, it's unable to pump more money into the Illinois Migrant Council's food stamp outreach efforts because of budgetary reasons.
One option, though, for the migrant council is to start using its own funds to support the program rather than relying on the state. If that were to happen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the federal food stamp program, said it could reimburse the council for half of what it puts into outreach.
Meanwhile, food banks, like those in McLean and Champaign Counties, are making efforts to fill the gap with their own food stamp outreach coordinators. But like the Illinois Department of Human Services, they suffer from a lack of Spanish speaking workers on the ground.
On September 11, 2001, Barack Obama was a lawyer, a professor and a state senator.
As personal memories of Sept. 11, 2001 go, President Obama's are remarkable in how unremarkable they are...In 2001, Barack Obama was a lawyer, a professor and a state senator. He recounted the day as "one bright, beautiful Tuesday morning" a few years ago in an August 2007 speech captured by C-SPAN. Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik reports.
Many more children need food assistance than are getting it and the Illinois Commission to End Hunger heard testimony from people on the front lines of childhood hunger in Peoria and McLean Counties at a public hearing August 9, 2011 in Peoria.
Children comprise nearly half of all participants who receive federal food assistance and yet many more families with children are eligible for help who aren't getting it.
Childhood hunger was the focus of the second of eight hearings on hunger in Illinois presented by the Illinois Commission to End Hunger on Tuesday, August 9, at the United Methodist Church in Peoria.
Pride and stereotypes about people who receive SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or LINK cards (Illinois' name for this federal benefit) keep some people from getting the help they need.
"People say they are lazy, they are this, they are that, and I take personal offense from that because I was on SNAP benefits for my last two years of college," said Brittani Evans, SNAP outreach coordinator for the Peoria Area Foodbank in McLean County.
Evans testified at Tuesday's hearing. She had a son while in high school, graduated, got a job, bought a home and was then diagnosed with cervical cancer.
"For a while, I lived off of my retirement funds," Evans said. "When it came to my money running out of my bank, I was going to school full time and just trying to finish that and do it on my own. I was very, very hesitant to accept any kind of benefits because I never had any. I always took care of myself. It took my last two years of college before I actually accepted that help and started accepting food stamps. It was one of the best things I ever did. It was just one less bill to pay."
Now Evans helps other parents in need and the elderly, another underrepresented group, receive the benefits they are eligible for. Paperwork for SNAP benefits can be daunting, and by going out into the community, Evans has increased the number of people she has enrolled in the program. Her position is funded by a grant from the Heart of Illinois United Way and Feeding Illinois, a network of foodbanks operating in Illinois.
Tuesday's hearing was filled with example after example of people in Peoria and McLean counties finding resources to help hungry children.
For example, when federal funds for summer feeding programs for low-income school children were eliminated, the United Methodist Church in Peoria stepped up and is feeding 50 children from three local schools daily, according to Michelle Hayden of the Madison Avenue Kids Club Program.
"We don't just just serve them lunch but a nutritional meal," Hayden said. "The (Peoria Area) Foodbank has donated lots of food to us. Church people cook food and serve it and donate from their own pockets." Her program also provides the children with structured activities.
Linda Davis, Walmart community involvement coordinator, testified about a partnership between Walmart and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Peoria. Walmart employees deliver backpacks filled with healthy meals from area foodbanks to the Club on Fridays for the children to take home. According to an email from Amy Sickinger, program coordinator at the Club, that was read during the hearing:
"As members have been receiving consistent meals that are nutritionally balanced, they are able to focus and think more clearly. I have seen these children become much less irritable and able to think through things at a level they were not able to before. We have less fighting than ever before in our programming. It sounds so simple, but when someone is hungry, it is almost impossible to focus on anything other than the hunger pains they are experiencing."
Though very popular, backpack programs are one of the most expensive ways to feed children because, according to Barb Shreves, executive director of the Peoria Area Foodbank, the food contained in them is purchased food in small single-serving packages -- such as packaged tuna in a pouch and cartons of milk - all designed for children to open themselves.
Walmart doesn't donate the food for the backpacks; instead, according to Shreves, they donate thousands of pounds of canned goods and meat that isn't sold by the expiration date to area foodbanks for redistribution.
Marjorie LaFont, community leader and founding member of the Peoria Area Anti-Hunger Coalition, spoke of Tender Mercies, a project of the Midwest Foodbank in Bloomington with satellite offices in Peoria and Indianapolis. Tender Mercies is a meal in a bag that makes five servings of a complete nutritiously balanced meal of beans, rice and textured protein.
Though the private response to childhood hunger seemed strong in the Peoria area, all presenters stressed that federal assistance in the form of SNAP benefits and school feeding programs are vital to meeting increasing need.
Arthur Welch, moderator for the hearing summed it up this way:
"It's all about children. What I would recommend to the Commission is this: whoever makes the final presentation, choose someone among you who has passion for what we are talking about today ... You must feed hungry children. And in this state and in this country, there is no excuse for not feeding children. No excuse be it Republican, Democrat or Independent. There is no excuse in the United States of America that we shouldn't be taking care of our children and elderly better than we are doing."
The next hearing will take place on Monday, August 29, from noon until 3pm at The Wayne Township Pantry in West Chicago. The topic is "The Hidden Face of Hunger."
To hear the hearing on childhood hunger from the Peoria session, click on the listen button at the top of this story.
An examination of why some people turn down participation in Illinois' SNAP food assistance program.
The 2008 recession has taken its toll up and down U.S. Route 150 - and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says almost every Illinois county along the 150 corridor has seen an uptick in 2010 in use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. But anti-hunger advocates say many people who have lost their jobs are NOT taking advantage of SNAP. Illinois Public Media's Dave Dickey reports as a part of our series "Life on Route 150.
Cherry Orchard landlords to stand trial for code violations
The Cherry Orchard Village apartments lie just south of the abandoned Chanute Air Force Base near Rantoul - and like the base itself, Cherry Orchard has seen better days. Now the two landlords who manage the eight-building complex are charged with failing to maintain it - to the detriment of its tenants, mainly migrant worker families. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers has been collaborating with the investigative journalism group CU-Citizen Access, he reports on the legal battle to bring Cherry Orchard up to code.
Interview with historian Howard Zinn, who was active in Civil Rights and anti-war movements
Illinois Public Media's Bob McChesney interviewed the late Howard Zinn in October 2008. Howard Zinn was the author of A People's History of the United States, among many works. Zinn was an acclaimed historian and political scientist, and was active in Civil Rights and anti-war movements in the United States for many years.
An effort in Congress seeks to keep immigrant families together.
Family reunification accounts for nearly two-thirds of lawful permanent migration to the United States: it's the largest avenue by which people receive admission to the country. Yet, family separation remains a part of daily living for countless immigrants. A legislative effort in Congress focuses on family unity as a key component of immigration policy. Illinois Public Radio's Sean Powers examines the issues facing lawmakers and families.
Counting the number of homeless people in Champaign County
Every two years during the last week of January, communities across the country try to answer a difficult question: How many people are living without permanent shelter? This point in time survey is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to determine the number of homeless people nationwide and understand more about their characteristics. CU-CitizenAccess reporter Dan Petrella went along on this year's count in Champaign-Urbana.
Legislation could extend immigration rights to same-sex binational couples.
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the armed services. But there's another issue that many gay rights supporters are pushing. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on the political deadlock over legislation to extend immigration rights to same-sex binational couples.
Retraining laid-off workers
In Central Illinois, many employers large and small have downsized or closed altogether, forcing thousands of laid-off workers to consider new options. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert looks at the retraining of workers. Ingenuity and government-funded training are giving many of them a jump on a new career, or a better shot at an old one:
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