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Central Illinois Headlines – April 18, 2024

Budzinski files measure to stop post office consolidation in Central Illinois

URBANA – Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D-IL13) said she’s introducing legislation to stop the U.S. Postal Service from moving processing and distribution out of post offices in Champaign and Springfield. 

The Postal Service is considering moving regional mail-sorting operations out of those post offices and merging them with operations in the Chicago area.

Budzinski’s bill would block such consolidations if they would move processing facilities in under-performing postal districts. Budzinski said in a press release Wednesday that her bill will protect local post office jobs and prevent local mail delivery times from worsening. 

She’s sponsoring the bill along with Republican congressman Jack Bergman of Michigan. – Emily Hays, IPM News

Lawmakers, advocates again call for affordable housing tax credit

Housing advocates are renewing a push to fund a $20 million state affordable housing tax credit in the upcoming state budget. 

Supporters of the “Build Illinois Homes Tax Credit Act,” modeled after a federal tax credit program, claimed it would result in over 1,000 affordable housing units being built over its first six years. The push for the measure, contained in House Bill 4909 and Senate Bill 3233, comes one year after a similar to appropriate $35 million in tax credits failed to advance. 

Its supporters said the money would replace federal pandemic-era funding that went to the Illinois Housing Development Authority over the last three years but has since run out.

Allison Clements, the executive director of the Illinois Housing Council, a housing association representing almost 300 businesses and nonprofits, said is designed to provide “immediate attention” to the state’s “housing crisis.”

Read more: Advocates push for tax credit aimed at increasing affordable housing

That sentiment was echoed by HB 4909’s chief sponsor Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook, who said her constituents tell her they are worried about being priced out of their homes or apartments. The program would help build up to 1,150 affordable homes and apartments within six years, Avelar said.

Illinois has a shortage of close to 300,000 affordable rental homes, according to a report published last month by Housing Action Illinois, an affordable housing advocacy group.

Clements said the tax credit “is not going to meet the entire needs of the state” but is needed to maintain what the IHDA has been receiving.

“Affordable housing is not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s an issue about our constituents,” Avelar said. “Investors will only receive the state tax credit after construction is complete and qualified tenants move in with affordable rents.”

Corporate ownership has affected rents, which is why affordable units are needed more than ever, she added.

“We have also seen a very troubling – and skyrocketing – rate of corporate landlords who are buying homes, apartments and who are pretty much increasing (the cost of) rental units to the point where people are being priced out,” Avelar said.

Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, who is the chief sponsor of SB 3233, said the tax credit is just one way of adding more affordable housing in the state.

“We have huge needs (for affordable housing), you’ve seen this talked about all the time. We talked about a ballot initiative in Chicago, well, this is another way we can actually deal with housing,” he said.

This year’s push also has backing from the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Midwest Region, two influential groups within the Statehouse. – Dilpreet Raju/Capitol News Illinois

Public health groups seek more funding to reduce overdose deaths

Harm reduction advocates and multiple House members called for more state funding towards evidence-based solutions “beyond naloxone and safe supplies.”

Among those solutions are overdose prevention sites – a designated brick-and-mortar location where people with substance use disorders can receive clean supplies and use drugs safely in the presence of public health workers who ensure people who potentially overdose do not die.

Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, described rising overdose numbers as an “international problem” impacting all kinds of communities. Ford is the chief sponsor of House Bill 2, which provides the framework for an overdose prevention site in Chicago and has languished in the Rules Committee for almost one year.

Aisha Betancourt-Esquivel became an advocate for harm reduction in 2019 after her daughter, BreAna Betancourt-Esquivel, died of combined drug toxicity at 25 years old.

 “We all have loved ones that are worthy of all possible avenues to recovery,” Betancourt-Esquivel said.

“I stand here to ask for your strong consideration and support of an overdose prevention site because an overdose prevention site could have helped my daughter,” she added. “Yes, it’s a wild idea but guess what? The drugs will still be here, we just want to keep these people alive.”

Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago, said she represents “hundreds of people who want to stop using drugs, but they live in fear and stigma.”

“With the exception of naloxone and safe supplies, evidence-based harm reduction interventions have been left out of our behavioral health and public health funding streams in Illinois,” said LaPointe, who is a former social worker and current chair of the House Mental Health and Addiction Committee.

Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, said she used her naloxone training two separate times to assist men who overdosed in her district. Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said he had a “dear friend” die from an overdose before he became a legislator.

“I share your passion for this issue, I share the frustration I’m sure you all experience at times,” Guzzardi said. “Why can’t we just get it done? I’m sure people in this room are feeling that way today.” – Dilpreet Raju/Capitol News Illinois

Skeletal remains found at home in Illinois identified as those of woman missing since 2008

SPRINGFIELD — Authorities say skeletal remains found at a house in Springfield have been identified as those of a woman who vanished in 2008.

Sangamon County Coroner Jim Allmon says a post-mortem examination identified the remains as those of Michelle Renee “Shelly” Bianco of Springfield.

Allmon says Bianco’s official cause and manner of death are still pending. Her skeletal remains were found Monday at a house in Springfield one day after police were called to the residence about “personal items” found in a crawl space.

Sangamon County Sheriff Jack Campbell said Tuesday those items included a purse with documents with Bianco’s name on them. She had vanished in April 2008. – Associated Press

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Urbana Mayor Marlin confirms she won’t seek third term

Democrat Diane Marlin is confirming what she has been talking about for more than a year: she’ll step down as Urbana mayor when her current term ends next spring.

“After 8 years on City Council and 8 years as mayor, 16 in city government, is a good long run,” Marlin said in an interview with Illinois Public Media.