Friday, August 21, 2009

Gov. Quinn Visits United Way to Sign 211 Legislation

This morning, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Illinois) visited United Way of Metropolitan Chicago to sign into law a piece of legislation that will expand the Illinois' dedicated 2-1-1 health and human services information line throughout the entire state.

2-1-1 is an information and referral line to help people connect to needed social services provided by a range of non-profit and government agencies. With leadership from United Way, state agencies and State Senator Susan Garrett, Senate Bill 1922 gives residents in Illinois access to 2-1-1, an easy to remember, toll-free, 24 hour information line that connects people in need with health and human services.

Currently, primarily through United Way and state funding, 2-1-1 is available to about 76% of the U.S. population with 240 active 2-1-1 systems in 47 states. 2-1-1 call centers nationwide received nearly 10 million calls in 2007, a 27% increase over 2006. Due to the economic downturn in 2008, 2-1-1 centers reported a dramatic increase in calls by those seeking rental or mortgage assistance, paying utility bills, and assistance related to job loss. Because of the expanding reach and increasing visibility of 2-1-1, many 2-1-1 call centers lack the resources needed for adequate telecommunications infrastructure, to provide appropriate staff levels and training, to maintain 24 hour-a-day service, to ensure complete and accurate informational databases,and to reach rural populations.

Plans are still being developed to determine exactly which agencies will provide critical funds and services for the 2-1-1 programs. It is also being determined where the state's promised matching grant for health and human services providers fits into the state's 2010 budget. The governor hopes that the expansion of 2-1-1 statewide will eventually allow other health and human service providers such as suicide hotlines, rape hotlines, and the like to roll-up into this program, providing one centralized source for information to people in need of assistance.

Gov. Quinn also answered some questions regarding the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Board of Regents scandal. He dodged specific questions regarding whether he had plans to speak with the board members and ask for their resignations by the established Monday deadline. Gov. Quinn said that he would be in contact with the board members. When pressed on whether he would speak directly to the board members by Monday, Gov. Quinn began telling stories about Dick Butkus and his attendance at the 1961 Rose Bowl game (in which Illinois won.) He asked the reporter if she saw that game. It was obvious that the reporter was not conceived until well after 1961.

Gov. Quinn also addressed questions regarding MAP Grants for needy college students in Illinois. The state funding allocated to Illinois Monetary Awards Program (MAP) grants, college financial aid awards for needy students, was slashed during state budget cuts this year. As a result awards have been cut in half for all students and have been denied outright to over 130,000 students who applied after May 15, a significantly earlier cutoff date than previous years. Typically, Illinois MAP grants award up to $5,000 per year to the neediest college students in the state, provided they submit their financial aid applications by mid-August. This year, however, the deadline was moved up to mid-May due to budget cuts. Even students who applied on time will still receive reduced funding, as the current budget for the program can only cover grants for one semester of study. Students at community colleges, who typically apply for financial aid later in the year and often have access to fewer financial resources, are likely to be the hardest hit.

The governor stated that he will push the Illinois legislator to restore full funding for MAP Grants saying "If a student gets a scholarship the first semester they should receive a scholarship the second semester if they make the grades and fit the financial need qualifications."

I had the opportunity to have some light conversation with Gov. Quinn after the press conference. He is a very affable man with a prominent Chicago Irish accent (he attended Fenwick High School). The governor was noticeably tired, with disheveled hair and saggy eyes. We talked about Georgetown (his undergraduate alma mater) and their chances this season in basketball. We both agreed that Georgetown is guaranteed at least two Big East wins this season, both more than likely coming against my alma mater DePaul University. We also talked briefly about his membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the first greek-lettered fraternity turned high honors society.

Fun Stuff

During the press conference, Gov. Quinn said that the University of Illinois was founded in 1871 after President Abraham Lincoln signed a grant setting aside land and funds for the school. The University of Illinois was actually founded in 1867 as The Illinois Industrial University. It was one of the thirty-seven public land-grant institutions created shortly after Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862.

When asked about the University of Illinois Board of Regents Gov. Quinn compared this issue to a baseball game. "This is a nine inning game and right now we're in the bottom of the 9th." Sports, the politicians old friend and fallback.

Gov. Quinn had no comment when asked about the state of medicinal marijuana legislation currently being vetted in the Illinois legislature. Sorry Richey, I tried.

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