CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced today that the state is moving forward with its plans to provide financial assistance to the families of National Guard members and Reservists who have been activated for duty.
The governor said today that he will ask lawmakers to support a $5 million state contribution to a fund that has been established to make grants to the families of men and women from Illinois who have been called up for active duty to support the U.S.-led military efforts in Iraq and to combat terrorism.
The governor’s request for funding will be included in the Fiscal Year 2004 budget that he will present to the General Assembly next week.
Blagojevich said that his request for funding, and a request for new rules that will authorize the payments to be made available to the families as soon as possible, represent “further—and expedited—steps that our administration intends to take to provide relief and protection to the families of the brave men and women of the Illinois National Guard and Reserves who have been called up to serve our country at this challenging time for our nation and the world.”
The fund—known as the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund—was established by legislation that Blagojevich signed into law earlier this year. Grants paid out from that pool of money are intended to help families make mortgage payments, pay rent and other bills that become increasingly difficult to afford when a wage-earner temporarily leaves his or her job to be placed on active duty.
The Governor made the announcement Thursday at the Illinois National Guard armory located on Chicago’s near southside. Scheduled to appear with Blagojevich were Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who was a driving force behind efforts to pass the legislation establishing the fund, and Major Gen. David Harris, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard.
In the long-run, the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund will be financed largely through the contributions of individual taxpayers who choose to contribute to the effort. Beginning next year, a voluntary check-off will appear on state income tax forms allowing Illinois residents to donate to the fund. Contributions to the fund can also be made from other sources, including private businesses and foundations.
With approximately 6,000 Illinois Reservists and Guard members having been called up for duty, Blagojevich said that he wanted to act immediately to support the fund—and take steps to ensure that the funds can also be paid out as soon as possible.
“At a time when our men and women are overseas, putting their lives at risk protecting our freedoms, it is vital that we act to provide some measure of protection to their husbands, wives and children who are here at home,” he said.
To expedite the payments, Blagojevich is directing the Department of Military Affairs to submit a proposed set of eligibility criteria to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) on an emergency basis. This will allow payments to move forward, even before JCAR formally approves the rule, as long as the legislature has given spending authority to the department.
Under the proposed rules, each family of a Guard member or Reservist will be able to apply for a grant worth $500. In addition, families that can show extreme financial hardship as a result of a family member’s service will also be allowed to apply for additional assistance. The rules also provide for additional consideration for the families of personnel who are killed or injured while on active duty.
The assistance will be available to families of Guard members and Reservists who have been activated to serve in three ongoing operations: Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom, the current campaign conducted overseas to fight terrorism; and Operation Noble Eagle, the domestic component to the anti-terrorism effort.Grants would be available to personnel who are designated at the rank of “Officer-3” or below. In the Army, Air Force, and Marines, an O-3 is a Captain; in the Navy, an O-3 is at the rank of Lieutenant.
Blagojevich signed into law the bill establishing the fund on February 7. On that same day, the governor also signed an executive order stipulating that state employees who are called up for duty would not see a net loss in pay. Under that order, the state makes up the difference between an activated service member’s base military pay and their regular salary as a state worker.
Contributions to the fund can be made by private citizens by writing to the Military Family Relief Fund, Dept of Military Affairs, Camp Lincoln, Springfield, IL 62702-2399.
Also scheduled to participate in the press conference Thursday was U.S. Navy Reservist Will Beiersdorf of Arlington Heights. Beiersdorf was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba guarding captured al Qaida prisoners. He and his wife, Mary Beth, were instrumental in fighting for passage of the legislation that established the relief fund. The law is Public Act 92-0886.