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Public Funds

Rural transit ridership surges

By Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press -- When CRIS Rural Mass Transit District began serving residents of northern Champaign County, officials figured it would take two years to reach the ridership levels of 1,000 passengers a month. It didn’t take nearly that long – only a few months.

“I guess the need has been far greater than we predicted,” CEO Amy Marchant said.

There was a definite need for a rural public transportation system, said the woman who serves as CEO of CRIS Healthy Aging Center of Danville, which operates the service.

Total ridership has skyrocketed from 514 in May to 1,178 in August, the latest figures available.

File Photo/CU-CitizenAccess -- CRIS Rural Transit driver Bob Dunagan prepares to make the rounds to Rantoul to pick up three riders headed to Champaign-Urbana. CRIS recently began providing transportation to rural residents through an agreement with Champaign County.

Deadbeat Illinois: Joint project highlights burden of unpaid bills

By The News-Gazette/"Deadbeat Illinois: The Painful Price of Unpaid Bills" is a joint project by The Associated Press and its members across Illinois — including The News-Gazette.

The goal is to highlight the state's decision not to pay its bills on time and to examine the extent of the impact on the people, businesses and human-service groups across the state.

These stories will appear in The News-Gazette in print and then online. As they are posted, we'll link to them from here.


Screen shot of Illinois outstanding bill search database

Stimulus money may explain Champaign, Vermilion stability on poverty

By Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette -- A new report from the U.S. Census shows Champaign and Vermilion counties holding their own economically in 2010, with overall poverty not worsening and median incomes actually rising.

However, that may reflect an influx of federal stimulus money that has since dried up, according to one local official.

The U.S. Census released the findings of its 2010 American Community Survey, which collects socioeconomic information about communities across the country each year, from poverty to education to demographics. The data are taken from surveys of about 3 million U.S. addresses, but given the small sample sizes in each community, margins of error vary greatly.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics/A map of unemployment rates in July 2011 across Illinois. The dark areas indicate high unemployment rates, while the lighter areas indicate lower unemployment rates. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday shows median income rising, but local social service officials say it's due to federal stimulus money, which has since dried up.

Budget pain compounds for agencies helping immigrants, refugees

By Jay Lee/For CU-CitizenAcccess - Champaign County’s immigration-service agencies may have to bear some of the burden for the state’s burgeoning debt – and they aren’t happy about it.

Dan Petrella/CU-CitizenAccess - Anh Ha Ho, left, and Deborah Hlavna, co-directors of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, discuss a problem Ho encountered Thursday morning helping a client.

Affordable housing may soon be harder to find for some Section 8 renters

By Matthew Schroyer/For CU-CitizenAccess -- With budgets crimped by dismal job prospects and the cost of living ever-increasing, more and more Champaign families are in need of federal housing assistance.

The demand has hit the local housing authority so hard that the wait list for Section 8 vouchers, which pays for rental housing for needy families, had to be closed. Hundreds in Champaign County now wait for the subsidy, also known as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs).

CU-CitizenAccess/File photo.

New study takes first-time look at Champaign County's housing needs

by Dan Petrella/CU-CitizenAccess — The dream of owning an affordable home is out of reach for one out of three Champaign County residents, according to a new regional housing study commissioned by local government agencies and cities.

The housing study, prepared by Columbus, Ohio-based consultants Vogt Santer Insights, estimates that the median home value for the county this year is $139,419.

The News-Gazette/ A house in the 200 block of Green Street. A new regional housing study shows that owning a house is out of reach for one in three Champaign County residents.

Farmers markets offer better access to fresh foods for low-income families

By Jhane Reifsteck— Local farmers markets in Champaign and Urbana, IL have started accepting LINK cards, creating more options for low-income people and families to obtain fresh foods.

CU Citizen Access/ A woman shops at a farmers' market in Urbana. Local farmers markets have started to accept government benefits such as food stamps as payment for goods, giving receipients more fresh food options.

More funds for utility assistance, but gaps still exist

CHAMPAIGN — A recent $3 million windfall could help residents who are struggling to pay utility bills this year.

The need for utility help is growing, yet there’s a gap among the few programs that offer assistance.

CU-Citizen Access/A woman applies for help paying her water bill at empty tomb inc., a Christian research and service organization, in January. The nonprofit organization cuts a check for $30 for the first eight people who call for help with utility bills on Mondays. Empty tomb inc. is one of few organizations locally that offer assistance without income guidelines.

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