Unemployment rate declines; winter utility assistance available

Employment picture continues to improve
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has announced that the state’s unemployment rate continued its decline, reaching 4.1 percent in August, the lowest figure on record. Jobs are up by more than 47,000 over the year, led by manufacturing, according to the Director of IDES, Jeff Mays.

Over the summer, job growth moderated slightly, with reported average monthly gains of 4,000 jobs for the season. For the previous year, nonfarm payroll jobs were up by 47,500 jobs. In August, the leading industry sectors for growth were manufacturing (+11,300); government (+10,500); and financial activities (+8,200). Some categories showed a decline in jobs, such as information services (-3,200) and the broad “other services” category (-600). In total, Illinois’ nonfarm payrolls increased +0.8 percent for the year, trailing the national gain of 1.6 percent.

The state’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate remains slightly higher than the national average, which stands at 3.9 percent. Compared to a year ago, the state’s unemployment rate is down by 0.9 percentage points. The last time the Illinois jobless rate last stood at 4.1 percent was in February 1999. The gap between the Illinois unemployment rate and the national rate is the narrowest it has been since December 2010.

Winter LIHEAP assistance to open applications October 1
Seniors and those with disabilities may begin applying for utility assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program starting Monday October 1. The program, which is funded by both the state and federal governments, offers help with heating bills during the winter months for eligible households.

To apply for assistance, a person will need to bring proof of gross income from everyone in the household for the 30-day period beginning with the application date. They will also need to provide a copy of their current heat and electricity bills, proof of Social Security numbers for everyone in the household, and proof of assistance received from the Department of Human Services (such as TANF, SNAP or Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled). If the applicant is a renter, he or she will also need to show a copy of their rental agreement with landlord contact information.

The October application period is open only to seniors and the disabled. Households which have been disconnected or which have children under 6 may begin applying on November 1, and all others can apply starting December 1. To learn more about LIHEAP, or to contact your local LIHEAP agency, visit www.liheapillinois.com or call 1-877-411-WARM.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,281,248,019 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Tour of Fieldcrest schools
Last week I stopped by the Fieldcrest schools in Minonk. My thanks to Superintendent Dan Oakley and the Fieldcrest administrators and staff for showing me around. I enjoyed having the chance to tour the school facilities and to meet with the staff and students. I am always inspired by talking with our local students and learning about their future plans and hopes. This was some time very well spent.

Illinois obtains federal funds to continue opioid fight
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Illinois close to $29 million in new federal funding to help with the ongoing fight against opioid abuse.

The grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) increases the total federal funds which have been directed to Illinois for improved and expanded access to treatment and recovery services from opioids to $61 billion. With these funds in hand, Illinois can expand services statewide, including medication-assisted treatments for those in county jails as well as resources to link those who are hospitalized with opioid overdoses to local treatment programs.

The federal dollars will also be helpful in housing those in recovery and funding support services at federally qualified health care centers. Illinois’ Prescription Monitoring Program, which tracks prescriptions to prevent misuse of prescribed opioids will also get additional support from these funds. In addition to those services, the grant will help with training for Illinois first responders who encounter overdose victims and lead to wider availability of the overdose-reversal medication Narcan.

This grant comes on the heels of another award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which made $3.7 million in funds available to Illinois for data collection and prevention efforts under the Cooperative Agreement for Emergency Response. It helps the state to identify and report data on overdoses to the CDC for its monitoring efforts.

Assistance for those suffering an opioid use disorder is available by contact the Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances at 1-833-2FINDHELP or by visiting HelplineIL.org.

Public Health Administrators Roundtable

Along with several other members of the General Assembly, I was glad to attend the Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators Legislative Roundtable in Peoria this week. A two hour session focused on some of the concerns facing our public health institutions. It was a good discussion of some of the processes that raise awareness of health issues in rural Illinois.

Did You Know?
Illinois’ state parks and recreation system is the sixth largest in the nation. According to figures from the Secretary of State’s office, Illinois has 487,176 acres of state park land which serve over 42 million visitors each year.