Champaign Township referendum to keep poverty program local

By Natalie Carino

When Champaign Township voters look at their ballots on Tuesday, they will have to sort through some complex legal jargon to understand and decode the message of one of the referendums.

This referendum, which would increase the property tax by removing a tax cap, is meant to fund the General Assistance Program, a type of public assistance to help extremely low-income citizens.

Linda Abernathy, the township supervisor, said in a press release that she believes Champaign “has the moral will to fight the crisis of poverty and lift the tax cap for one year.”

“What started to happen was city of Champaign Township was required because of tax caps to take money out of its reserves fund,” Abernathy said.

Cash reserves currently stand at $447,000 and are expected to keep falling. If voters approve the tax increase, the township will receive a little over one million dollars. The estimated cost for an owner of a $150,000 home is an additional $22.59 per year in property taxes.

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    It is an Illinois state law that townships provide general assistance to all eligible individuals. To be eligible, clients must have gross monthly unearned income, such as social security or veterans’ benefits, that does not exceed $212. Gross monthly income from working cannot exceed $618. If a client meets the requirements, they would be eligible to receive the maximum monthly grant of $212 per month.

    Abernathy said three reasons led to the tax increase: the increase in recipients, property tax caps and the decrease in funds.

    There have been some discrepancies, however, with the increase in the number of clients.

    “I think there is such a change and until we can fully understand what has constituted the change, I’m not in support of more than doubling the actual cost of taxes,” said Vic McIntosh, Champaign City Councilman.

    When Abernathy took office, there were about 20 clients. Now, she said general assistance averages about 100 clients per month.

    “If people are truly in need, you can’t say no, but why has there been such a dramatic increase since present township supervisor took office?” said Roger Fisher, Champaign resident.

    Abernathy feels that the number of recipients was so low before because of the application process.

    “I believe that there were artificial barriers set up that prevented clients from accessing this resource,” Abernathy said. “Like if they came in to apply they were given an application and told to return and then when they returned it they wouldn’t get an appointment for a couple of weeks.”

    If the referendum does not pass, the Champaign Township would then have to relinquish control of the program to the state.

    “To ensure those that those who are scraping the bottom of the barrel don’t fall through, I feel really compelled not just as township supervisor but for a citizen of this town that this is a moral obligation,” Abernathy said.