Getting a complete count for the Census; new rules for foster homes

Statewide census efforts picking up momentum

Every ten years, the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census of the population of the entire United States of America. These figures are then used for everything from drawing state and federal legislative districts to dividing up hundreds of billions of dollars in funds from federal programs. Our tax dollars go into those programs – an accurate count of our population is necessary to make sure our area gets its fair share from Uncle Sam.

To ensure that the state of Illinois; and every county and community within; is fully counted, the state has launched a complete count commission, led by Secretary of State Jesse White. The commission is encouraging local groups; whether they are governments, civic organizations or just concerned citizens; to form their own local complete count group to spread the word about the importance of a complete and accurate census or our area.

The Secretary of State recently shared information suggesting that an undercount of the Illinois population in 2010 might have cost our state and local governments as much as $952 per person over the course of the decade. Visit www.illinoiscensus2020.com to find out how you can help organize a complete count commission in your town and help make sure everyone is counted.

Tougher rules for foster homes

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has issued a new rule requiring Illinois’ licensed foster homes to comply with the federal government’s National Model Foster Family Home Licensing Standards. The new standards are intended to better protect foster children and to discourage states from routinely transferring children from their birth families to foster homes. The national policy holds that a safe birth family, when it can exist, is always the best family, but acknowledges that in some cases, foster placement is necessary.

Most foster parents will likely already be in compliance with most or all of the new standards. They include home furnishing standards covering things like kitchens, bathrooms and swimming pools. For example, a foster home will have to have a stove, oven, refrigerator, sink, toilet, shower and bathtub. The standards prohibit foster parents from smoking in their home or motor vehicle. If the home has a swimming pool, it will be required to have pumps, filtering systems and life jackets.  Children will also be required to be vaccinated against contagious diseases.

As of June 30, DFCS was tracking 16,091 children statewide who had been removed from their homes by judicial process. In some of these cases, efforts are being made to remediate the situation and reunite the family. However, in about a third of them the process had advanced beyond that point and the kids were now considered to be foster children.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,901,259,271 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.0 billion. 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 $133 billion.

Meeting with local chambers

It was nice to sit down with members of the local chambers of commerce from Vermilion and Iroquois counties last week at Greg’s Bar & Grill in Watseka. Alec Laird from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association was our keynote speaker and he gave a business perspective of the recent legislative session in Springfield. He did a great job and I really appreciated all the questions.

We need to be doing more to improve our business and job-creation climate in Illinois. We took some significant steps in that direction this spring, by implementing tax credits for job creators and finally pledging to start fixing our roads. But we still have much to do.

Illinois National Guard troops deploy to Afghanistan

A unit of 400 National Guard personnel from Illinois has deployed to Afghanistan. Soldiers of the 178th Infantry Regiment are not expected to see combat in the field, but they have been trained for in-country deployment in Afghanistan. The Illinois Guard troops will be conducting security duties at U.S. military bases and assisting in enhancing the security of America’s field advisors to the Afghan National Army.

This is a good reminder about all the brave Americans in the field far from home guarding our freedom. I hope we will all remember them and their families while they are protecting us overseas.

Did You Know?

August 10 is the anniversary of the Chatsworth crash, an 1877 train wreck in Livingston County in which a train trestle caught fire and collapsed beneath a train from Peoria. The wreck killed 85 people and injured 300 more. It was later determined that the fire had been caused by an improperly-extinguished controlled burn meant to protect the trestle from the danger of brush fires in that very dry summer.