Guest Column: Spare unemployed Stephenson County residents more challenges

November 7, 2012

• Closing Freeport’s Illinois Department of Employment Security office gives jobless another obstacle

By Jason Carson Wilson

Life comes with so many challenges. Like death and taxes, for many people, unemployment has become an inevitable part of life. It’s yet another challenge to face. That’s not a foreign concept to Sensata workers holding down the fort at Bainport.

Other area residents have endured unemployment for months or years. Benefits usually arrive like clockwork, if recipients verify they’ve continued searching for work, but not secured a job yet.

However, the money stops if an eligibility question arises. A required call and/or visit to the local office could be necessary. Citing budget constraints, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) will close its Freeport office by year’s end and merge with Sterling’s IDES office.

So, unemployed Stephenson County-area residents, who may have lost jobs, homes, cars and probably dignity, must now lose local access to vital services. Putting people in the position of procuring transportation to an office 40 miles away isn’t fair, particularly given the demographics.

Northwest Illinois Workforce Investment Board, of which the IDES is a partner agency, serves Carroll, Jo Daviess, Ogle, Stephenson and Whiteside counties. (In full disclosure, I served as a “ WIB” manager for a short time.)

Unemployment rates in those counties, as of August, ranged from 6.7 percent in Jo Daviess County to 11 percent in Stephenson County, according to IDES documents. Even so, claims that demand for services is dwindling are still being propagated.

With that said, a quick glance of a map shows most unemployed people live north of Whiteside County. So, at the very least, Stephenson County should retain a local IDES office. That’s where the Citizens for Freeport IDES comes in. Citizens for Freeport IDES is a grassroots effort to keep the office’s doors open. We’re looking for the community’s help in stressing why the Stephenson County area needs a local IDES office.

Nearly 50 people have shown their support by signing an online petition at change.org. Please visit www.change.org/petitions/illinois-department-of-employment-security-director-jay-rowell-stop-freeport-unemployment-office-closure.

While the petition will land on IDES Director Jay Rowell’s desk, IDES spokesman Greg Rivara said federal cuts prompted the closures. The Freeport IDES will become one of seven offices shuttered.

So, Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn, State Rep. Jim Sacia, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo and U.S. Rep. and U.S. congressional candidate Adam Kinzinger all need to hear your voices.

Please help us help the unemployed keep vital resources in the community. They’re resources essential to getting people back on their feet. They could even help you survive the challenge of job loss. Please speak up for the unemployed.

Jason Carson Wilson is chairman of Citizens for Freeport IDES.

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

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