Blagojevich swings through Southern Illinois

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

TAMMS, Ill. -- While Gov. Rod Blagojevich told a small crowd Monday how his administration will help Alexander County out of poverty, Jack Slusher was sitting across the road in the town's only bar. He's heard it all before, he said.

"I left this area in 1965 because there was no work, and there still ain't," said Slusher, 56, of nearby Ullin. "I got no time for politicians."

But Blagojevich told the 200 people who gathered in front of the town's old train depot that what he's got planned to help one of the state's poorest areas is just the thing to work after years of economic malaise.

He calls it "Team Illinois," a program he first announced last month in Pembroke Township near Kankakee, in which state agencies focus on a designated area, listen to community leaders' concerns, and brainstorm ways the state or the federal government can help through existing programs.

In Pembroke Township, work already has begun with road repairs and health screenings for children, Blagojevich said.

Companies participated in a job fair that resulted in people getting jobs, said Tracey Scruggs Yearwood, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, one of the agencies running the program.

Savanna and East Aurora also are designated areas in the program.

Agency representatives will meet with Alexander County leaders in the next few weeks, Yearwood said.

"It's a specific initiative that addresses the specific needs" of the places to be helped, Blagojevich said.

"I say it's time for the state of Illinois to help Alexander County thrive again," he said. "And I'm not talking about tomorrow ... (but) right now," he told the crowd of cheering politicians and residents. He made the stop during a swing through far southern Illinois this week.

Alexander County, cornered by the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in far southwestern Illinois, is among the poorest in the state. The northernmost patch of the famously impoverished Mississippi Delta has few businesses and few jobs.

More than a quarter of all Alexander County residents live below the federal poverty line, compared to about 10 percent in the rest of Illinois. And households generate about half the median income they do statewide.

On Monday the governor also helped break ground for a tourist lodge in New Grand Chain, and signed a bill capping Medicaid co-payments for some drugs at a Metropolis senior citizens' home.

He planned stops in Benton and Mount Vernon Tuesday.

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