New DHFS Director; Flood prevention group meets again

Patti Bellock named DHFS director
Gov. Rauner has named Patti Bellock as the new director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS). Bellock has served in the Illinois House since 1999. She has established herself as one of the House’s leading experts on Medicaid as well as the health care and social services programs she will oversee as director.

Director Felicia Norwood resigned earlier this year to take a job in the private sector. The interim director was Teresa Hursey, who will stay on as Medicaid Director in the Department.

As a representative from DuPage County, Bellock became the first woman to serve as Deputy Minority Leader in 2013. She played a major part in getting federal approval of the proposed Better Care Illinois program, the state’s new effort to create 10 pilot programs on mental health and substance abuse. Rep. Bellock was also a driving force behind the updated hospital assessment earlier this year, a change which benefits our area by helping our local hospitals.

Originally from River Forest, Bellock has a bachelor’s degree in History and American Government from Saint Norbert College in Wisconsin. She has been honored by numerous organizations over the past 19 years for her work on a wide range of health care policy issues, focusing on mental health, developmental disabilities, and children’s health.

The appointment took effect on July 11.

Flood Alliance continues its work

We held our initial East Central Illinois and West Central Indiana Flood Alliance Meeting in Forrest earlier this month. Approximately 45 local leaders from Illinois and Indiana as well as flood management experts from both states were in attendance. We were also joined by representatives of the offices of Congressman John Shimkus and Congressman Adam Kinzinger. This is truly an issue that requires attention at the local, state and federal levels.

We covered a number of topics at a high level, including mitigation planning, flood insurance, obtaining funds and how groups might work together to gain more financial support for their efforts.

Special thanks go to our county board chairmen: Robert Young, John Shure, Andy Wheeler, Mike Marron, Randy Berger and Stan Glazier for their leadership. They helped bring together leaders in emergency management, soil and water districts, drainage districts, townships, county engineers, mayors and others who have an interest in protecting our area from flooding. I am also grateful to Paul Osman and his team at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for helping us to get organized.

The group will meet again to continue our efforts. Everyone’s continued involvement is critical to helping this move forward.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,735,994,204 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Illinois Economic Report published
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has published the “2018 Illinois Economic Report,” a database which can be used to create a statistical picture of where Illinois currently stands and what our near-term future prospects are. As part of its overall responsibilities as administrator of Illinois’ system of unemployment insurance, IDES is constantly collecting job-related information and insurance contributions from Illinois employers.

According to the report, Illinois is close to what economists consider ‘full employment” now that statewide unemployment has dropped to 4.3% in May, the most recent month for which statistics were available at the time of publication. The report also offered this cautionary note: new jobs are not being created in Illinois as quickly as they are being created in other states.  The report divided the state into ten geographical regions and then used the job figures compiled by IDES to look specific economic and employment categories within each region. It then used that analysis to report on the strengths and weaknesses of each area.

Celebrating funding for agriculture programs

I was honored on Wednesday to join Governor Rauner at the Menard County Fair in Petersburg to celebrate the release of millions of state dollars in funding to county fairs, soil and water conservation districts and other agricultural programs throughout Illinois. These programs, along with our local 4-H and FFA chapters are extremely valuable to our local farm economy and our region’s future.

As I wrote in this space earlier this summer, I appreciate the Governor’s decision to release the funds in time for county fair season. These events are such an important part of life in our area. The funds were urgently needed for repairs and upgrades to the facilities where our friends and families gather every summer to celebrate agriculture and rural communities.

Did You Know?
While Illinois is the 6th largest U.S. state in population, we are ranked right in the middle of the nation, #25, in terms of physical size. At 57,913 square miles, Illinois is slightly larger than Iowa and slightly smaller than Georgia. While the biggest U.S. state in land area (Alaska) is more than 11 times our size, we are 37 times larger than the smallest state, Rhode Island.