Illinois to get $2.5 million to boost Southern Illinois

Saturday, January 19, 2002

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Barbara Wingo doesn't know much about the complex problems plaguing the Mississippi Delta, an impoverished strip along the river from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern Illinois.

But she does know about domestic violence, a problem the 64-year-old has tackled for more than 20 years at the sprawling women's shelter and assistance center she started near here.

The group is among several in Southern Illinois addressing social or economic problems that will share $2.5 million in federal funds aimed at boosting the Mississippi Delta, Brad Cole, Gov. George Ryan's deputy chief of staff, said Friday.

Wingo's program will likely receive $100,000, Cole said. The money will help Wingo move her cramped Harrisburg center to bigger quarters.

"If we don't, we'll soon have two or three staff to a room counseling women, and that jeopardizes their confidentiality," she said.

Domestic violence is only one of the problems that tend to spring up in places like rural Southern Illinois, where many are poor and isolated, jobs are scarce and hope is often slim that things will improve.

In 1988, Congress established the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission to look for ways to spur economic growth in the poorest region in the country -- along the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois and Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, whose western parts mirror the region.

Out of that commission came the Delta Regional Authority, which, like a similar group targeting Appalachia, will divvy up federal funds for economic and social programs.

Divided money at meeting

On Friday, representatives of the eight Delta states met in Monroe, La., to decide how to divide the money that Congress has given them, which totals $30 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2002.

The group decided that half of the money will be shared equally by the states, the other half divided based on poverty rates and population, said Cole, who represented Ryan at the meeting. That leaves Illinois' 16 most southern counties with $2.5 million, he said.

A governor-appointed panel last year chose 38 projects to share the money, including Wingo's, Cole said. Governors of the Delta states will meet in Washington on Feb. 24 to approve the recipients.

It was not immediately clear how much each of the other states will receive. None has yet identified potential recipients, said Ray Bryant, executive director of the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center in Memphis, Tenn. The group was established to help form the authority.

A variety of projects

In Illinois, the projects picked form an eclectic group: Carmi's Trelleborg Automotive, an auto-parts maker and one of the area's biggest employers, is up for $75,000 to expand; Cairo is up for $100,000 to help spruce up its downtown; Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski and Union counties are up for a collective $98,000 for a regional mass transit system; Southern Illinois Healthcare, a non-profit, is up for $35,000 to teach high school students about avoiding violence.

As for Wingo, she plans to buy land for a new building with her share.

As it is, piles of extra mattresses and baby car seats crowd the shelter's offices, which typically bustle with her 29 full-time counselors, teachers and social workers.

"The money will sure help us," said Wingo, who started the center out of her home in 1979. At the time she worked as an emergency-room assistant and noticed women seeking treatment for injuries they couldn't explain. A $10,000 state grant really got things going, she said.

"Particularly down here, where women are extremely isolated," Wingo said. "It's important to tell them battering is wrong."

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