Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday February 9th, 2016, 5:25pm

State Commission Presses Illinois Leaders To Invest $4 Billion In African-American Communities

As the state budget impasse continues into its eighth month, the executive director of a state commission said African Americans in Illinois are in "a state of emergency."

Speaking Tuesday morning during a press conference at the Thompson Center, the leader of the Illinois African American Family Commission (IAAFC) urged Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers to redirect $4 billion in public funds, or approximately 15 percent of the state's budget, to African-American communities "to repair the harm done as a result of Illinois' budget crisis."

"Now eight months without a state budget, our communities are left with little to no services," said Michael Holmes, executive director of the state-mandated IAAFC, which works to "facilitate partnerships between government entities and communities to ensure a safe, healthy and secure environment" for African Americans across Illinois.

IAAFC, he said, "is calling on the governor and the General Assembly to reinvest in black neighborhoods."

The commission spoke out one day before President Barack Obama's speech to the Illinois General Assembly.

"I'm hoping that he can convey a message to the General Assembly that this [budget impasse] needs to get resolved quickly, and people need to begin to talk about serving the residents of this state," Holmes said.

African Americans represent 15 percent of the Illinois population, according to the commission, which is why it is seeking community investments totaling 15 percent of the state budget. 

"We want to make sure that those dollars are being invested in our communities," Holmes said. "It's not happening right now. We've done enough research and collected enough data to know that those opportunities don't exist. Those dollars are not going to our communities directly."

Holmes pointed to a new report from the Heartland Alliance's Social IMPACT Research Center, which showed that African Americans in Illinois face persistent disparities when it comes to poverty, unemployment and other quality-of-life measures.

"Unemployment, poverty, sickness and lack of social services are plaguing communities of color across Illinois," he stressed. 

Holmes was joined by small business owners, social service providers and others who voiced concerns about the budget impasse and called for greater community investments.

"The non-profit businesses in our communities are dying on the vine because the funds and resources from the state of Illinois are being held up," said Yvette Moyo, publisher of The South Shore Current magazine and co-founder of Real Men Cook.

IAAFC itself has gone unfunded during the impasse, which "speaks a lot to the interest of this administration and working with our communities," Holmes said.

The commission plans to host a two-day African-American Leadership Summit next month, during which participants will flesh out the $4 billion community investment proposal.

"Our agenda is clear," Holmes said. "We represent African Americans in this state. And we think that ... the governor has to have a conversation with us about what his intent is in providing services to our community."

The governor's office released a statement after IAAFC's press conference. 

"Governor Rauner agrees with the Illinois African American Family Commission that we need to invest in minority communities, which is why he created the Advancing Development of Minority Entrepreneurs program in January," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly. "The program works to increase opportunities for minority communities that have been overlooked in our economy. The governor has also proposed changes to the state's prevailing wage laws because minority-owned businesses are disadvantaged by the current system. Reforming the prevailing wage can help us rebuild and reinvest in neighborhoods, especially minority communities."

During his first week in office, Rauner also signed an executive order aimed at "ensuring that employment and business opportunities are open to all persons and business." The executive order requires labor groups and contractors working with the state to report the number of minorities and veterans in their apprenticeship and job training programs. It also called for a state review of veteran hiring and a "detailed study of participation by Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and Veteran-Owned Businesses in State of Illinois procurement opportunities."


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