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Published: 1 year 25 weeks ago

 When Congress passed a budget agreement Thursday afternoon that averted a government shutdown, one of the items cut was $15.8 million for a nonprofit organization that funds local groups providing legal assistance in civil cases to low-income individuals.

Of the money cut from the Legal Services Corporation’s federal funding, more than $100,000 would have gone to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, which serves Champaign County and 64 others in central and southern Illinois.

Land of Lincoln expected to receive about $3 million from Legal Services this year, Christopher Dain, the Illinois group’s director of development, wrote in an email. That represents more than 40 percent of budgeted revenue and other financial support.

The cuts will not result in any reductions in the services provided to low-income and senior-citizen clients, Valerie McWilliams, managing attorney at Land of Lincoln’s Champaign office, said in an email...

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Published: 1 year 26 weeks ago

Workers over the age of 55 have it tough these days.

According to the latest employment data for the Champaing-Urbana area from the U.S.Census Bureau:

Workers ages 55 to 64 averaged about $4,480 in monthly earnings during the fourth quarter of 2009, the highest of any age group. By the first quarter in 2010, that dropped to about $3,720. At nearly 490 in job losses, this age group lost the most in the first quarter of 2010 out of any age group.

And the new jobs they are hired for don’t pay nearly enough.

According to U.S. Census Bureau employment data, those over the age of 55 who were hired at new jobs within the first quarter of 2010 made at least 45 percent less than their previous salaries.  (See our Age vs. Wage interactive graphic)

At a reporting conference on current economic issues earlier this week in Chicago, Nancy Wajler, director of adult learning at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. said that her school has seen...

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Published: 1 year 27 weeks ago

An annual ranking of the health of America’s counties shows Champaign in the top third of Illinois’ healthiest counties, but, on one measure, it falls near the bottom of the pack.

In Champaign County, 22 percent of adults younger than 65 do not have health insurance, according to the County Health Rankings, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Champaign County trails only downstate Jackson County in the percentage of adults without insurance and is tied with Cass and Stark counties.

By comparison, in neighboring Vermilion County, which ranks 98th out of 102 counties on overall health, only 12 percent of adults are uninsured.

Julie Pryde, administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, said the discrepancy between the two counties is likely due to a higher percentage of people in Vermilion County who qualify for Medicaid.

Locally, there are many working...

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Published: 1 year 28 weeks ago

By Rubina Ali/ For CU-CitizenAccess

What does it take to battle an epidemic? Not as much as you think. Homelessness is a problem that affects most communities, but in Champaign County the problem seems to be more obvious than other cities.

Walking down Green Street you see the average college-town restaurants, a few small boutiques and that homeless guy you seem to always run into with his cup of change.

But you’re on a budget. Who isn’t, especially during this recession? Cutting back on your Starbucks, renting a movie from Redbox instead of going to the theaters; you’re trying to save.

But there are a lot of different ways to battle homelessness that have nothing to do with your wallet.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2009, there were 656,129 homeless across the U.S. and 14,055 homeless in the state of Illinois but the NAEH admits that there could be as many as 3 million homeless across the country....

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Published: 1 year 29 weeks ago

More stringent regulations on payday loans set to take effect in Illinois on Monday  have elicited a variety of responses from businesses that offer these short-term, high-interest financial products.

As we reported last fall, Illinois lenders, including those in Champaign-Urbana, began offering alternative products after the state passed tighter regulations on traditional payday loans in 2005, which instituted a fee cap of $15.50 per $100 borrowed. The new law is aimed at restricting the so-called "consumer installment loans" companies now offer as an alternative.

The regulations cap interest rates that were previously unregulated and restrict monthly payments based on the borrower's income. (For more details on the regulations, see this blog post by the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit research and policy organization that has been critical of payday lending practices.)

So how are the lenders...

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Published: 1 year 30 weeks ago

The Community Development Block Grant fund is facing drastic cuts as Congress debates the federal budget, according to recent news articles.

These funds are given on an annual basis to more than 1,200 municipalities across the country. They are used in a variety of ways to alleviate problems with infrastructure, housing and jobs in low-income areas.   Housing improvements, sidewalk repairs, youth services and neighborhood facilities are just some of the ways these funds are spent.   Since 2002, Champaign and Urbana have seen a decline in these grants while Rantoul has seen its grant roller-coast, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.   For fiscal year 2010, Champaign received just over 13 percent less than it did in 2002, according to HUD reports - from just over $960,000 in 2002 to about $835,000 in 2010.   Urbana received about 6 percent less in fiscal year 2010 than it did in 2002– from...
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Published: 1 year 31 weeks ago

Almost a year after we first reported that the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center was in danger of closing due to delinquent payments from the state, the nonprofit organization is still perched in a precarious financial position.

The Illinois Department of Human Services, which provides about 20 percent of the center's total funding, owes the agency monthly payments from September through December, totaling about $12,000.

On top of that, Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed drastic cuts to the budget line that funds the refugee center and similar programs throughout the state, a move that has angered immigrant-rights organizations and drew protests earlier this week at the Illinois State Capitol.  

"Nobody knows what the devil is going on,” Deborah Hlavna, the center's co-director, said.  

The current lag in state payments already has the center, located in a small office in an annex of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana...

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Published: 1 year 32 weeks ago

United Way released its 2011 Community Report that highlights several issues in Champaign County and we decided to take a different look at it.

The report includes detailed information on education, health care, employment, housing and poverty rates.  It also includes this nifty summary:

If you were to select 100 people randomly from Champaign County:

• 10 would be over 65 and 6 would be under 5

ʉۢ 74 would be white, 12 would be black, 8 would be Asian, and 4 would be Hispanic.

• 14 would speak a language other than English at home, 3 of them Spanish and 7 of them an Asian language.

• 65 would be born in Illinois, 23 in another state, and 12 in another country.

• 41 would be married and 8 would be divorced.

• 1 would be a farmer, 8 would work in manufacturing, and 36 would work in education and healthcare.

• 6 would work for the University of Illinois, 2 as faculty and 4 as staff.

• 21...

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Published: 1 year 33 weeks ago

When it comes to fighting poverty, U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, didn't earn the kind of grade last year that you'd post on the refrigerator.

The six-term congressman earned a D from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law on its 2010 Poverty Scorecard. The Chicago-based group grades all members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate based on their voting records on key legislation aimed at combating poverty.

Johnson, whose district includes all of Champaign County and a large swath of East Central Illinois, voted against 11 of the 16 poverty-fighting measures identified on the scorecard in 2010.

His grades from the Shriver Center have been slipping over the past few years. He received a B in 2008 and a C in 2009.

One of the bills Johnson opposed was President Obama's health-care overhaul, which Johnson called "a wholesale abandonment of market-based principles” in a written statement he released after voting for the law's...

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Published: 1 year 34 weeks ago

State legislation has been proposed to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $10 an hour.

Only Washington state and Oregon have minimum wages higher than Illinois. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, according to this Sun Times article.

While advocates argue that the raise would offset the state's personal income tax increase for lower-income residents, opponents say the requirement would drive businesses away.

According to a 2010 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition,  a person needs to make between $11.52 an hour to $23.37 an hour to afford housing in Champaign County. (See numbers here)

According to the coalition, housing that costs 30 percent or less of a person's income is considered affordable.

Check out this interactive graphic of housing costs in Champaign

Check out our map of the number of home-owners paying more than 30 percent of their income to housing costs.  

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