CHICAGO-Stepping up his efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today ordered his state agencies to make additional services available to both displaced victims currently housed in Illinois, and to the relief efforts being conducted in the Gulf Coast states. The Governor has directed the Illinois Department of Employment Security to help displaced victims housed in Tinley Park and Alton process unemployment claims and facilitate job searches and job training. The Governor has also asked banks and thrifts in Illinois to help victims open checking accounts and get access to other basic financial services. Additionally, the Governor will send up to 100 state employees to Louisiana to help officials process services to citizens in the more remote areas of the state.
“Displaced victims have lost their homes, their possessions and their jobs. Our help to them cannot be limited to housing, medical care, clothing and food. We have to do everything we can to get them back on their feet, and that includes helping them with their unemployment claims, and assisting them in finding jobs here,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Victims also need basic financial services, like opening a checking account and reestablishing credit, and we’re asking financial institutions in Illinois to give them a hand.”
IDES employees will work with Central Management Services staff to set up remote computer stations in the state facilities in Tinley Park and Alton where the first displaced victims to arrive into Illinois have been housed. Through these remote stations, IDES will be able to help individuals process unemployment claims and receive timely and useful information about job opportunities in Illinois. Since the onset of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, IDES has been working with its sister agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi to take claims from individuals dislocated by the Hurricane and the flood. IDES has processed these first claims through its Moline branch office.
Responding to the Governor’s direction, up to 100 state employees will travel to Louisiana this weekend to help the Louisiana Department of Social Services provide services to victims in hard to reach areas of the state. CMS Director Paul Campbell has asked other agency directors to seek volunteers for this mission. The majority of the volunteers will be clerical employees, with the remainder including security personnel, information technology specialists, drivers and mechanics. Due to the lack of basic amenities in the state, the Illinois contingent will take along provisions to be totally self-sustaining for the entirety of their deployment, which could last up to two weeks. Besides food, water, tents and portable toilets, the groups will take along generators, computers and other office supplies.
The Governor has also directed the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDPFR) to reach out to state-chartered banks and thrifts and ask them to provide free check cashing, eliminate ATM services fees and establish checking and saving accounts for displaced victims now residing in Illinois.
Additionally, Gov. Blagojevich asked the Illinois Department of Revenue to extend filing deadlines to taxpayers from counties damaged by Hurricane Katrina and who owe Illinois taxes, until October 31, 2005.
This week, Illinois has received over 300 displaced victims from the Gulf Coast states in Chicago and the East St. Louis area. Individuals and families, upon arrival have received immediate medical care and have been transported to state-provided housing in the Tinley Park and Alton areas. Governor Blagojevich announced on September 4, Illinois is ready to receive as many as 10,000 displaced victims, and has called elected officials, community leaders, not-for-profit organizations, religious institutions and social service providers to match the State of Illinois’ coordinated relief effort to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, Gov. Blagojevich ordered all state agencies to respond in a coordinated manner to help both the recovery and cleanup efforts in the Gulf Coast, and the victims coming into Illinois. Illinois’ efforts to date include:
- The Governor has set up a hotline to provide Hurricane Katrina victims with immediate assistance regarding social services offered by the State of Illinois, including health care, crisis counseling, food stamps, K-12 public school registration, and services for veterans, seniors and persons with disabilities. The number, 1-800-843-6154 is staffed by the Department of Human Services.
- Gov. Blagojevich announced the deployment of nearly 1,100 more Illinoisans to help Louisiana respond to the devastation resulting from Hurricane Katrina. The latest deployments include nearly 600 firefighters who left Monday and 500 National Guard troops that are preparing to depart for Louisiana on Wednesday. This latest deployment brings to 800 the number of Illinois National Guard troops sent to Louisiana.
- A total of 134 highly trained law enforcement officers from state and local agencies were deployed to Louisiana. These include Weapons of Mass Destruction teams, Tactical Response teams, Underwater Dive teams, a mobile command post, various all terrain vehicles, boats and trucks. The Illinois Department of Transportation contributed 500 yards of fencing and 500 stakes on two lowboys pulled by two semis that will be in the law enforcement convoy.
- The Governor dispatched 52 members of the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Teams (IMERT) to Louisiana to assist with care of the massive number of sick and injured victims from Hurricane Katrina.
- The Governor dispatched an 11-member Incident Management Team to George County, Mississippi to assist local emergency managers during the crisis.
- The Governor ordered the state’s public schools to waive residency requirements and enroll any child displaced by Hurricane Katrina who relocates to live with family, friends or in a shelter in Illinois.
- The state’s public universities have also responded to the Governor’s call to provide accommodations for college students displaced by the hurricane. The state’s 39 community colleges will accommodate any Illinois resident displaced from higher education studies because of the hurricane, while Illinois’ 12 public universities will also take in students affected by the destruction along the Gulf Coast. Students are encouraged to contact admissions offices at each university to being an expedited process to enroll in the institution and to access university services like financial aid.
- The Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency are offering free camping and have removed length of stay requirements for Hurricane victims at all state parks and historic sites that offer camping.
- The Illinois Department of Transportation has waived certain transportation rules to allow standard-sized semis carrying supplies and materials to Louisiana to be overweight by up to 15,000 pounds when they travel on Illinois roads. Currently, a standard-sized semi is only allowed to weigh 80,000 pounds when traveling through Illinois. IDOT will also grant emergency permits to companies that need to move oversized equipment to the impacted area.
- The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) is making available various items through IEMA’s emergency procurement system including 256,000 half pints of water, 8,500 blankets, 18,300 clothing items, and 2,900 dozen packages of cleaning supplies. IDOC has also delivered 3,000 bedrolls to the Red Cross in Hillside.
- The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has sent toiletries and food to the Tinley Park facility and in collaboration with several other federal and private agencies will send food to the Gulf Coast states.
- The Department of Central Management Services has made available its Bureau of Communication and Computer Services (BCCS) to help provide communications assistance to devastated areas. Using broadband services, including high speed data transmission to remote areas underserved by local carriers, BCCS can provide relief command centers with uplinks for phone and internet access, and also links to shelters so displaced individuals can call loved ones.
- The Department of Human Services has sent staff skilled in processing Food Stamps, to help the United States Department of Agriculture implement a Disaster Food Stamp program in 25 Louisiana counties.
- The Illinois Department of Agriculture has made available to the Illinois State Police the Expo Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds as a staging area to consolidate personnel, equipment and supplies in preparation for deployment. The building could be used for several days, providing a secure, easily accessible location for supplies and vehicles of all sizes.
- The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Public Health have dispatched twelve specialists to Louisiana today. The specialists are members of four environmental health strike teams being sent by the state at the request of the Louisiana Emergency Management Agency. Their expertise includes drinking water, sewage, food safety and food salvage. In addition, two IEPA trucks stocked with emergency response equipment and two IPDH vehicles have been deployed.
- The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) continues to be fully activated with representatives of more than a dozen state agencies and IEMA personnel who are assessing assets their agencies could provide to assist disaster response and recovery efforts. SEOC is in continual contact with the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) officials in the affected states to coordinate requests for assistance with assets Illinois can offer.