General assistance fund needs no aid, official says; voters will decide

CHAMPAIGN – General assistance payments in the City of Champaign Township lag behind other comparable Illinois communities, but the township supervisor says the fund is the healthiest it has been in years.

Township Supervisor Pam Borowski said the general assistance budget, which in 2007 was running out of money, began to stabilize after her predecessor's switch to a different program. The fund has continued to solidify after her election to the position in April 2009, she said.

A proposal whose placement on the ballot was approved by township voters in April 2009 will be put to a November referendum. It will ask residents if they support a property tax rate increase of up to $25 for a median-value home to bolster the general assistance fund and bring it in line with four comparable Illinois townships.

Borowski has said that she does not support the nonbinding referendum.

"Property taxes in this town are high enough, and we don't need to raise them," she said.

But documents obtained through News-Gazette requests under the Freedom of Information Act show that general assistance payments and property owner contributions to the fund in the City of Champaign Township are lower than the other four townships.

Borowski said the township each month serves about 25 clients, each of whom receives a maximum payment of $212, under what is known as a transitional assistance program.

The program is a form of welfare that fulfills a state mandate that townships provide general assistance to their residents. General assistance is basic welfare that provides clients with a cash payment each month to purchase essential life needs.

The City of Champaign Township program requires that its beneficiaries be physically or mentally incapable of working.

City of Champaign Township clients are often bipolar, said case worker Barbara Nailon. Some others have post-traumatic stress disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, among other illnesses.

"Many of them can't be around crowds, and they're not capable of working in an environment with a lot of people," Nailon said. "We have severely ill people that are on the ropes."

The monthly check can stretch when a client is living only on basic needs, Nailon said. Soap, toilet paper and clothing are among what recipients might buy with their cash payments from the township, she added.

The clients, often accompanied by their mental health caseworkers, come to the township office with no income.

"I think you could make it if you budgeted correctly and manage it correctly," Nailon said. "It could stretch."

Nailon said clients also typically receive assistance from other sources: food stamps for groceries and subsidized housing, for example. Some clients live with friends or family and pay no rent at all.

Cunningham Township, which serves Urbana, provides a higher monthly payment to a wider scope of clients, said Carol Elliott, the township supervisor there. The township operates under a broader general assistance program, which is income-based and does not require its clients to be incapable of working.

Cunningham Township served an average of about 70 clients during each of the last 12 months. Each of those clients received a maximum payment of $243 per month.

In June, 79 clients drew money from the township's general assistance fund. The client numbers have started to rise recently, and Elliott said it could be because unemployment benefits are beginning to expire.

Cunningham Township property owners also paid more for general assistance: the owner of a $150,000 home would pay about $41 toward the fund, compared to about $17 in the City of Champaign Township.

Elliott said the contrast in the numbers is the result of a difference in political philosophies.

"You can make it difficult for people (to qualify), or you can help them," Elliott said.

Property taxes allocated to the general assistance fund in three other townships that will appear in the November question are also higher than City of Champaign Township's $17. In Peoria, the owner of a $150,000 home would pay about $42. In Springfield's Capital Township, the owner would pay about $35 and about $25 in Bloomington Township.

D'Anne Winston, the Democrat who ran against Borowski in the April 2009 election, said the township is not doing enough for its poorest residents.

"The township supervisor has the option to change the program to the point where it meets the needs of the community," Winston said. "However, with the recession going on, those needs aren't being met."

A tax increase would be the "sure way" of having funds available to help families, but Winston said that is not the only way. A "vigorous pursuit" of federal grants is the other option.

"It's not getting any better any time soon, so I think the city overall needs to loosen the purse strings because the people you help may be your neighbor," Winston said.

But Borowski said the fund is far more stable now than it had been during the past few years. The $212 that the City of Champaign Township gives to most of its clients is higher than it had been before the switch to the transitional assistance program with stricter requirements.

As the township ran out of money in its general assistance fund in 2007, benefits were cut to a maximum $100 per month. After the switch to the more limited program, officials were able to restore it to the previous $212 level.

Borowski said it is unlikely that she would return to the broader general assistance program.

"If I opened it back up like that, I would just have a flood of people coming in," she said.

If the township stays under budget for the next few months, Borowski said the monthly payment could be increased to $225.

"I just want to make sure that I do have enough money for people when they come in here and they do qualify," she said.

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windo67 wrote on August 08, 2010 at 10:08 am

Yea Pam boo to D'Anne Winston and to Ms. Winston where do you think the Federal Grant money comes from, your pocket. The answer to poverty is not hand outs , its a hand up. Neccessity is the mother of invention . I am sure there are people who needs this but like most programs , I am sure in Urbana , that it is abused.

cretis16 wrote on August 08, 2010 at 11:08 am

The people that need assistance are the taxpayers in URBANA, who have these officials grabbing more and more funds. There is absolutely no checks or balances in this system...just give the folks a nice big bag of cash for dope or wine. Why not insist on vouchers for food/rent,etc...instead of handing out bags of cash?

sahuoy wrote on August 08, 2010 at 3:08 pm

With some citizens wanting accountability from those persons relying on the fund it seems to me the first step is to track and account for all the tax money paid into and paid out of the fund. Common sense says with two cities totaling over 100,000 people and all the houses present, this GA Fund should be accumulating faster than anything yet either township is only able to help one or two hundred people with two to $242.00 dollars per month. WHAT? Where is the rest of the GA Fund money going? To who? For what purpose? Sounds like the GA Fund is the cities version of our Federal Government Social Security Tax Slush Fund which politicians use as they see fit with no intention of ever providing a safety net for the citizens which have paid in. Yes, stealing the money, don't have to look at the impact or results, let them figure it out, suffer, die. A politician was elected to help the all the people but they fail by only serving their party or personal interest. After all it takes years before the people see what's going on and have a chance to oust these criminals in the next election. Can this story talk about the real numbers in play or will you continue shamming the people with partial truths and lies only to benefit your cause of taking more dollars now and when the need has gone not giving the dollars back to the people by reducing the tax but finding another pet project to throw away the money on? People first, projects second.

greatkids wrote on August 09, 2010 at 9:08 am

If you want to know where the money goes, then I suggest you attend a town board meeting. The expenses are listed out and approved by the town board every month. It's right there in black and white. Better yet, why don't you pay a visit to your local Township office. Ask them what they do and where the money goes. Submit a freedom of information form. It's all public information. Money is just not handed out to these clients. There are state rules and regulations that have to be met and followed. Not only do clients receive a small amount of cash, but their medical is also paid for. As we all know, medical expenses are not cheap. There is also the social service agencies that Cunningham Township allocates money for in their yearly budget. I'm not sure if the City of Champaign Township does social service funding but then again, you can find that out. Everyone is so quick to point a finger, bad-mouth and bash agencies that are trying to help people in their time of need. I hope and pray that those of you who are doing the bashing never need any type of assistance. The paperwork that you have to obtain to prove your eligibility would be too overwhelming for you. One last thing....the assessors office IS under the same buget so the budget is not made up of welfare only! Attend a meeting and get more information before you start pointing fingers. Do something about it instead of being one of those people that sits on the sidelines and complains all the time but yet doesn't do a darn thing to try to change it.

LetsBclear wrote on August 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm
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This is not about us or them. It is about real people, not just the chronically poor, it is about the working poor too. While I must say it is admirable, that our current supervisor has been able to serve 25 people, those numbers to not coincided with the rate of this recession. If we had a 7.5% unemployment rate, yes I can see that. But we don't. The City of Champaign is 9.5%. That 2% include able body people who may not qualify for any other type of assistant. The gap of those in need is widening. I pray we do not see an increase in crime because of the desperation that comes from trying to maintain a household, or feed a family while waiting on State funds to come through. What do you tell someone who needs to work two jobs, but can't find one. You tell them we have reach our quota of 25 people. I hope noone else who mets the criteria gets sick or have a life threating illiness. Because there is no more room at the inn. An emerengy fund could be a one time help to a family above the guideline. But even that solution have been shot down. Be well and prosper.