A new report shows more Illinoisans are struggling to feed their families, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is seeking public input on its long-range transportation plan, and shuttered Illinois facilities stand idle despite the associated maintenance costs.
In other news, a bipartisan Senate Committee charged with reviewing the state’s school funding formula will meet at 2:00 p.m., Sept. 17 in the Capitol to allow the Illinois State Board of Education to provide testimony on a report the agency is preparing on school funding.
More Illinoisans Struggling to Feed Families
Under the weight of an economic downturn, rising consumer prices, and a higher-than-average unemployment rate, Illinois families are having a harder time making ends meet, and, in turn, are having a harder time buying food. A report (http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err155.aspx) from the United States Department of Agriculture estimates about 13 percent of Illinois families had a hard time purchasing food, up from around 9 percent a decade ago.
Food-insecure households are considered to be families that lack access to adequate food for a healthy living at least sometime during the year. About one-third of those households are considered homes with “very low” food security, in which some members of the home reduce the food they eat below amounts they consider appropriate.
Illinois has a lower food insecurity rate than the rest of the country, which the USDA estimates at 14.5 percent nationwide.
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, says the problem of food security reaches all ages and races. “It’s really an across-the-board problem,” he told Illinois News Connection. “It’s an issue for seniors, for working-age adults without kids, and particularly for families with children.”
Illinois’ unemployment rate is currently at 9.2 percent, compared to the national average of 7.3 percent. The statewide rate hasn’t dropped below 8 percent since December 2008.
Illinois facilities stand empty despite associated costs
Nine months ago, the last residents were moved out of the Jacksonville Developmental Center (JDC) as part of an initiative to relocate developmentally disabled people from state institutions to community-based settings. Local officials, however, are still waiting to see what the state will do with the now-vacant property.
In order for the state to re-use or dispose of the property, JDC must first be declared surplus property. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has officially informed the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) of its intention to declare JDC surplus property. CMS must review the request before the surplus process can begin and anticipates that this will happen by the end of this year.
Logistical concerns are a major factor in surplus requests involving larger properties like JDC. The property must be completely shut down, which includes shutting off utilities, transferring any remaining employees, and removing any personal property that may still be present.
Once JDC is officially accepted as surplus, it will be offered to other state agencies. If no state agencies wish to utilize the property it will be appraised and offered for sale. The first opportunity to buy is given to units of local government, like the city or county. Next, it is offered for sale to the public.
The age and condition of the buildings at JDC, as well as the cost of continuing to operate the power plant on the property, were among the factors cited by the Quinn administration in choosing to close the facility over others. The power plant on the property has been shut down, though concerns have been raised about the potential for deterioration at a facility that is already in need of major repairs and the impact that could have on perspective buyers.
The Lincoln Developmental Center (LDC), a similar facility, has been vacant for the past decade. LDC was shut down amid concerns about the quality of care its residents were receiving. It is estimated that the state spends $1 million per year to maintain the property.
According to the CMS, the Illinois State Police use a portion of LDC for exercises and the Department of Corrections uses a 27,000 square-foot warehouse for storage. Beyond these uses, the facility is completely vacant, including four never-used 10-bedroom homes that were built in 2006 to house developmentally-disabled adults.
Officially, JDC is in the process of being declared surplus, and LDC is still continuing to explore long- term options. JDC and LDC are just two of many vacant state facilities Illinois taxpayers are paying to maintain.
Public hearings set statewide on Illinois transportation plan
The public will be allowed to comment about Illinois’ long-range transportation plan for 2015 through 2020, during a series of meetings scheduled from Sept. 16 through Oct. 17 in 16 communities across the state (http://www.dot.il.gov/opp/outreach/outreach.html).
IDOT is seeking input by residents and business officials about priority projects being planned for the next five to seven years. The Multi-Modal Transportation Improvement Plan covers roads and bridges, mass transit, railroads, bike ways, and more.
IDOT is seeking comments concerning: overall transportation system performance in regions; regional transportation priorities; ways to make bicycles a more effective mode of transportation; and projects that should be considered for inclusion in the program.