State program aims to maintain jobs

By Darryl Holliday

A plan meant to create jobs in Illinois has been issued a new lease on life. Gov. Pat Quinn announced a six-week addition to the “Put Illinois to Work” program on Nov. 30, which will prolong it through Jan. 15, 2011.

According to the governor’s office, more than 26,000 jobs were created in the state since the April 2009 implementation of “Put Illinois to Work,” a collaboration of the Illinois Department of Human Services and more than two dozen partner organizations. The current extension marks the second time the governor decided to prolong the program. The first time two months were added after it was scheduled to end on Sept. 30.

Though the announcement came as good news to many residents and local organizations, some groups anticipate the time when the program comes to its eventual close.

“The issue is that the end date should not be something that leaves people devastated without a structure and process by which they are able to transition into a permanent job,” said Virgil Crawford, director of community organizing and development at the Westside Health Authority in the Austin neighborhood, which employs approximately 25 PIW participants.

According to Crawford, the ultimate success of the program lies in the creation of a process utilizing new human capital after PIW ends.

“It’s going to require a bold collaboration to really try and figure out best and worst practices and how we implement them so that we can achieve critical mass in the way of [employment], “ Crawford said.

According to Kelly Jakubek, press secretary for Quinn, the extension of the PIW program will cost approximately $47 million and draw funds from a sale of the state’s tobacco revenue bonds. The bonds were sold on Dec.1 and will be used to offset health care costs, among others, in Illinois.

With unemployment hovering around 10 percent in the region, many organizations view the PIW program as a means toward economic stability.

According to 28th Ward aldermanic candidate and community organizer Mike Stinson, the future of employment in the state will be optimistic as long as policy leaders put people first.

“We don’t recognize Jan. 15 as the end but the beginning of a conversation that can make a difference for a number of people,” Stinson said.

Along with Crawford and other community leaders, Stinson organized public rallies to encourage Quinn to extend the “Put Illinois to Work” program.

Charmaine Howard, a 20-year-old student at Harold Washington College, is employed with the Westside Health Authority through PIW. She said she learned to become an advocate for her community through her experience working with the organization. Though she hopes to find permanent employment with the organization, she has seen a benefit to city residents through PIW’s extension.

“It’s excitement and an inner release,” Howard said. “[PIW participants] have something to fall back on during the Christmas season.”

Though the recent economy led many individuals to dire situations, according to Crawford, PIW gave some Illinois residents a chance to find employment and give back to their communities.

Like many PIW organizations, the Westside Health Authority is not sure whether it will be able to provide permanent employment to all of its PIW participants, but organizers hope to provide what they can with the available resources.

“I think there are some great companies and organizations that are participating in this program,” Crawford said. “I think it demonstrates the kind of genuineness, sincerity and commitment these partners have in wanting to see people work and wanting to be a part of helping to do that.”