Historic year draws to a close
This year began with the usual optimism about a fresh start and the potential for positive changes. Back in January we were talking about the new laws that took effect with the new year, an improving national economy which was leading to more jobs in Illinois, and new legislation which was being introduced in a spring session of the General Assembly which was set to begin January 28 and be in session for 14 of the first 18 weeks of the year.
Our conversations a year ago were not about quarantines, lockdowns, positivity rates or "flattening the curve." Our Facebook pages were full of pictures of large groups of smiling people together at parades, civic, community and school events.
As we now know, the year abruptly steered onto a different course. Illinois' first coronavirus case was confirmed at the end of January and in February we began hearing the advice to wash our hands more often and avoid touching our faces whenever possible. In mid-March everything changed dramatically and now, ten months later, it seems our entire world is different from the one we lived in at the start of the year.
Through all of the events this year; including the summer of unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and a Presidential election unlike any other in the nation's history; Illinoisans have risen to the challenge. We were reminded of the courage of health care workers who take care of the sick each and every day, and we gained a whole new appreciation for the grocery store workers, truck drivers and other essential workers who many of us took for granted just twelve months ago. Together we mourned the more than 200 lives lost to COVID and COVID-related causes in our five-county district. We looked out for our neighbors, supported our struggling small businesses and helped each other through challenges and tragedies that none of us anticipated when this year dawned.
I am so grateful to represent communities like ours in Springfield and I thank you for once again entrusting me with that responsibility. As this historic year reaches its end and a new year begins with the hopeful news of a vaccine and a chance at a return to normal, I wish everyone a joyous and safe holiday season, and a much happier 2021.
I will be back with another update from the Capitol on Friday January 8.
Help for those affected by unemployment insurance fraud
For months now, far too many Illinoisans have been receiving letters about unemployment applications which were fraudulently made in their names. Some are now getting letters demanding that they repay the benefits for which they never applied and which they never received. This has to stop!
I have demanded that the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) get a handle on this situation and fix what is wrong, both the backlog of legitimate applications and the deluge of fraudulent ones. I have personally reached out to the Governor, my office has made countless contacts with IDES and a few days ago I joined with two other representatives in a press conference calling for public hearings into this debacle. Government has to do better, and this series of failures has dragged on for far too long.
If you have been the victim of one of these fraudulent actors or if you are receiving letters about benefits you never applied for, please go to https://www2.illinois.gov/
ides/Pages/UI-Fraud.aspx or call 1-800-814-0513 to report it immediately. You can also contact my office so that we may look into the matter on your behalf as well. Since the spring, this has been the number one issue which I have heard about from residents of our district.
Speaking remotely with Dwight students
A big change which none of us anticipated at the beginning of this year was the sudden and total shift to remote learning for our schoolkids. It has certainly not been ideal and has presented our students, parents and educators with significant challenges, but somehow they have managed to make the best of it, and I applaud their hard work and dedication.
I recently had the chance to be a "Google Guest" for Todd Severn's U.S. history class at Dwight Township High School as they used the internet to discuss the American Civil War. Thank you to Mr. Severn and all his students for the chance to say hello, and thank you for all that you do.
Riding along with local law enforcement
Every day our first responders are out there keeping us safe, even during the global pandemic that has forced so many to stay at home. Thank you to Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran, Deputy Sheriff Kevin Conrad and Dwight Police Chief Tim Henson for the recent opportunity to ride along with them during their regular work day.
It was a great chance to learn more about how law enforcement professionally interacts with the public. Every situation is different and these men and women officers have to be very aware of their environment. Sometimes they are called in on hostile situations and I appreciate how law enforcement work as a team to back each other up while also being aware of safety concerns for everyone involved. They quickly think on their feet as a situation changes.
Next chance you get, thank your local law enforcement officers for all they do to protect and serve our communities. They make an important difference!
Christmas lights in Gibson City
Many of our communities have hosted Christmas lights parades in recent years, but even this tradition has had to be adjusted in 2020. Instead of decorating floats and driving them past large crowds gathered along the parade route, this year many towns have flipped the script and hosted stationary parades. A couple of weeks ago I showed you pictures from Pontiac's event. Last week it was Gibson City's turn. Colorful Christmas floats were set up in the park in Gibson City and more than 1100 cars of visitors came through to enjoy the lights. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make the event a success!
Supporting our local food pantry, Toys for Tots
This month I was proud to donate my monthly pay raise to the Watseka Area Food Pantry. Our local food pantries have been an especially important resource in this year during which so many of our friends and neighbors have unexpectedly found themselves in need.
With Christmas just days away we have also seen that need affect many of our local children. I donated another pay raise to the Livingston/Ford Toys for Tots toy drive to help provide Christmas gifts for kids in our area.
Last year I pledged not to keep the pay raise which was given to legislators, donating it instead to a local non-profit serving residents of the 106th District. My thanks to Martha Howell and her staff at the pantry for all the good work they do. Thanks also to Sheryl Hovel and her daughter Heather (and little Brooklynn too!) for working so hard with Toys for Tots to spread the joy of the season, even in this difficult year.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,977,797,164 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.3 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 more than $141 billion.
More news from around the state
The latest update from the Department of Public Health reports deaths in Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Vermilion counties
Fixing dysfunction at IDES must be a priority
Madigan's allies shut down Illinois House probe into embattled Speaker
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin's statement on Governor Pritzker's proposed budget cuts
State Fair announces grandstand shows for next summer
Get the latest winter road conditions at IDOT's Getting Around Illinois website
For additional helpful resources, click here.
For continually updated news from state agencies, visit: coronavirus.illinois.gov or my website at repbennett.com and click on COVID-19 Info. Persons with coronavirus questions or concerns should call the statewide toll-free coronavirus hotline at 1-800-889-3931. You can also submit questions via e-mail at email@example.com.
My district offices remain closed to in-person visits, but are still accessible by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) and (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac).