Illinois congressman hopes to create fund to help military family

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO – Illinois’ newest congressman is sponsoring legislation aimed at helping military families nationwide who face financial hardship when loved ones are called for active duty.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, who won a March special election to fill the remainder of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s term, wants to model a National Military Family Relief Fund after an Illinois program signed into law in 2003.

“It is our duty on the home front to take good care of those who bear the battle on the front line,” said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who drafted the state law and joined Foster at a Memorial Day weekend news conference in Chicago.

Quinn said many families face an average 50 percent pay cut when National Guard members or reservists report for overseas duty.

The National Military Family Relief Fund would be modeled after Illinois’ version, which allows taxpayers to check off a box on their state tax returns to make a tax-deductible donation to the fund.

Foster’s legislation would provide for a similar voluntary checkoff box on federal tax returns, which the congressman said he would push to have implemented by next year. No specific contribution would be suggested and the money would be administered by the U.S. Defense Department, Foster said.

The Illinois Military Family Relief Fund provides grants every six months to applicant families whose breadwinner is serving in uniform and face financial hardship, with allocations ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 per year depending on need, officials said.

To date, the fund has distributed $6.2 million to more than 11,000 military families across the state.

Marine Capt. Simon Wlodarski of Chicago, a 32-year-old platoon commander recently home from Iraq, said financial hardship can compound troops’ worries. He told the Sunday news conference of a fellow Marine who was wounded by a mortar shell while his wife was at home supporting two children and expecting quintuplets.

Illinois’ fund “was of significant assistance immediately,” Wlodarski said.

Nearly 11,000 Illinois taxpayers have donated a total of $172,556 this year, the largest voluntary donation on the tax form, said Quinn said.

Foster, 52, faces millionaire Republican businessman Jim Oberweis – also his special election opponent – again in November to determine who will hold Hastert’s former seat after the current term ends in January.