Extension Partners lobby for withheld funds

By Sarah Small

Members of the organization Extension Partners met in Springfield with state legislators Wednesday to lobby for UI Extension, whose employees learned earlier this month that it will not be receiving the state funds they had expected.

The lack of funding will cause the program to cut about 450 jobs statewide, according to a press release.

The Illinois House of Representatives and Senate Committees of Agriculture and Conservation as well as the Senate Committee of Appropriations II requested members of Extension Partners to attend the joint session. Also in attendance were members of about 10 other groups that obtain funds from the state’s Department of Agriculture budget and are also facing budget cuts.

Jerry Hicks, president of Extension Partners, estimated that about 200 people attended.

UI Extension is an organization whose purpose is to connect Illinois residents to the University through educational programs. 4-H Youth Development is a division of the program with educational programs targeted toward young people. Cook County Extension Service provides Extension programs unique to an urban area.

The programs educate citizens on topics that range from food nutrition to environment sustainability to enhancing youth and family well-being.

UI Extension learned April 1 that the release of state funding was not approved. Earlier in the fiscal year, the Illinois General Assembly approved an allotted amount of money to finance the program, but the governor’s budget did not release the funds, Hicks said.

At the joint session, Pam Weber, legislative consultant for Extension Partners, was asked to provide a testimony on how the lack of funding would negatively affect the program, said Jeanne Harland, legislative chair for Extension Partners.

“Basically when we finished (the meeting), I think that it was understood that we have (the General Assembly’s) attention,” Hicks said.

In addition to the job cuts, programs that run in counties throughout the state will also be eliminated due to a lack of funds and a lack of employees to run them, Hicks added.

“With (UI) Extension, the people are the program, it isn’t things, it’s the people,” Harland said. “And when you cut half the funds, you cut half the program.”

The decision to not release UI Extension’s allotted funds comes nearly three-quarters into the fiscal year. Because of the timing of the notice, the program officials estimate that the full liability of these funds is $29 million, which includes the costs associated with separation and termination of employees.

“They’ve been operating for so long without the money they thought was there,” Harland said.

UI Extension is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as state funds through higher education and the University, according to an e-mail from Extension communications specialist Bob Sampson. The program is also funded by local governments and the County Board Match funds, which are state resources that match any local appropriations. It is the match funds, totaling $12.8 million, that have not been approved for release.

Members of Extension Partners are helping UI Extension obtain the funds they expected by writing letters to their local state legislators and the governor, Harland said.

“I personally contacted every member of the General Assembly and most of them contacted me back,” Harland said. “Everyone who did contact me was supportive of the program.”

Members of Extension Partners have also contacted the local media to raise awareness, and members of 4-H have created a Facebook group, Harland said.

“We don’t have any timeline,” Harland said. “We will continue to work and hopefully get these funds released.”