Senate Week in Review: October 29-November 2
Springfield, Ill. – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said the federal government announced its approval of a controversial Cook County Medicaid expansion late last week, and despite an arbitrator’s ruling on the contentious state facility closures pushed by Gov. Pat Quinn the facility closure struggle continues.
Recently, Gov. Pat Quinn’s fight to close a number of state facilities was bolstered by an arbitrator’s ruling which found that the Quinn administration has taken reasonable steps to work with union workers on closing the facilities, and should be allowed to proceed with shuttering the facilities. In addition, a state board charged with reviewing healthcare facilities, gave the green light to the Governor's plan to close the Jacksonville Development Center, which houses developmentally disabled persons.
Though the arbitrator noted that “the ideal solution” would be to keep the facilities open, he ruled the prison closures would not present a “clear and present danger” to facility employees. However, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) questioned the arbitrator’s determination; the union has long contended that the state’s correctional system is vastly over-crowded, arguing that closing and consolidating facilities will make circumstances more dangerous for prison employees.
In response, AFSCME has asked an Alexander County judge to retain the current injunction prohibiting closures. AFSCME is also asking the judge to vacate the arbitrator’s opinion, contending state law requires employers to provide a safe work environment. A recent Associated Press investigation revealed that the state had eased security rules for prison transfers, despite promises from the administration that no changes in procedures or policies would take place.
Spurred by the ruling, the Quinn administration also turned to the courts, requesting a Cook County judge lift the order to allow the state to move forward with the long-sought closures. It is not known how quickly the judges will respond to these requests.
In a separate action, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which is appointed by the Governor, voted 6-1 to allow the Quinn administration to proceed with closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center as early as Nov. 21. The board ruling came despite testimony against the closure from Jacksonville's mayor, State Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville) and State Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville).
Late last week, the Obama Administration approved a controversial federal waiver that will allow Cook County to begin enrolling persons early in the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare).
The early implementation of the Medicaid expansion was authorized by House Bill 5007, which passed the Illinois General Assembly on a largely partisan roll call in May. Most Republicans voted against the expansion, which is expected to add between 100,000 and 250,000 adults to Medicaid.
Opponents argued that, given the soaring costs of the existing program and the decision to reduce benefits for many seniors, children and chronically ill individuals already on Medicaid, it was wrong to add thousands of childless adults to the Medicaid rolls. Cook County sought the expansion, saying that the affected individuals were already receiving medical care though emergency rooms and free clinics and that the waiver would save the county as much as $100 million by forcing the federal government to help pick up the tab.
In other news, Sen. Rezin was on hand to help present a grant check to Unytite Inc. in Peru recently as a part of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s grant program.
The partnership between the Illinois Manufacturers' Association and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity works to provide Employer Training Investment Program (ETIP) grants to companies looking to train current and potential employees. Illinois legislators, including Sen. Rezin, designed the grants as a way to build a skilled workforce in Illinois that gives our state a competitive advantage in attracting and maintaining high quality and high paying manufacturing jobs. Sen. Rezin has been a long time supporter of the program and was on hand to help present a grant check for $7,000 to Unytite Inc.
Unytite Inc. in Peru manufactures industrial fasteners that are used in a wide range of products, including power generating windmills and the Oakland Bay Bridge. Because their work requires a highly skilled workforce and they are always looking for opportunities to further train their employees, they applied for an ETIP grant through the Illinois Manufacturers' Association last year. The grant is designed to reimburse companies up to 50 percent of the training costs for employees.
The ETIP grant program is ongoing and there are millions of grant dollars still available. Any employers who are interested in using the grants to help train their workforce can apply through the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. Visit www.ima-net.org or call 1-800-482-0462 or 1-800-875-4462 for more information.
Illinois recently launched a $1 billion clean water initiative to help overhaul the state’s aging water infrastructure. The program will make low-interest loans available to local governments for drinking water and waste water improvements.
In addition to providing needed updates, the Clean Water Initiative will create approximately 28,500 jobs and encourage community and business growth across Illinois.
This initiative allows the state to meet the demands of local governments for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment infrastructure funding. The IEPA has reported that more than 350 local governments have already expressed their need for a program such as this.
Communities are required to apply for a long-term, low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund (SRF) that the IEPA and Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) has been directed to expand in order to fund the initiative. No new state tax dollars will be used for the project. Although there is no deadline for applications, communities are encouraged to apply as soon as possible and can contact the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for assistance in completing the application process.
To learn more about the Illinois Clean Water Initiative, visit www.cleanwater.illinois.gov.
Despite some high tides on Lake Michigan, Illinois was spared the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. But that didn’t stop people and businesses across the state from mobilizing to help East Coasters devastated by the disaster.
Red Cross volunteers from Rockford, Dixon, Bloomington, Quincy, Carbondale and other communities are en route to the disaster area to help however they can. Meanwhile, Illinois Red Cross chapters across the state are appealing for blood donations to offset shortages on the East Coast.
Illinois-based Caterpillar is also getting into gear, instructing its dealers across the Eastern United States to provide generators to help with Sandy-related power shortages. Utility giants Ameren and ComEd were also offering help by sending Illinois workers to New Jersey to assist with the power situation.
The enormity of the disaster is leaving many Illinoisans wondering how we can make a difference. Fortunately, there are many reputable organizations which stand ready to help.
All the donations given to the American Red Cross will provide direct food, housing and other assistance to those impacted by the hurricane. You can visit www.redcross.org or text “redcross” to the number 90999 to donate $10.
The Salvation Army is on hand to provide warm food and clean-up kits for disaster victims. You can visit www.salvationarmyusa.org to donate and for more information.
AmeriCares is in the process of providing emergency supplies to disaster victims. http://www.americares.org/.
The Humane Society of the United States is accepting donations to help endangered pets and their owners who are victims of Sandy. Click here for more information.
Hurricane Sandy has reminded us all how important it is to prepare for natural and man-made disasters ahead of time.
The Centers for Disease Control has put together a long list of items that they suggest is important to have in the event that evacuation or home seclusion is needed. The list includes most items we would think of, such as water and a first aid kit, but it also includes items not so commonly thought of, such as maps of the area, personal documents, and a week’s supply of medications.
In addition to a disaster supplies kit, the site gives tips for emergency water supplies, such as how to properly store water and alternate water supplies if necessary. Lastly, the site provides similar tips for food storage and consumption as it does water, and encourages families to develop a family disaster plan.
To find out more information and start preparing you and your family for possible emergencies, visit http://emergency.cdc.gov/planning/. For broader emergency topics, visit http://emergency.cdc.gov/.