A state law passed earlier this year could boost funding for most county VA committees tasked with helping veterans.
Veteran aid leaders in suburbia say increased budgets will help eliminate the long waiting lists that veterans must contend with before receiving help with issues such as hunger, housing or health care.
But the law, which applies to every county except Cook, could be changed before it takes effect due to county officials’ concerns about oversight and how much money will be allocated to these services, among other things.
As written, the new law allows VACs to budget a maximum of 0.02% of the total estimated property values equivalent in their counties, which must be absorbed by the counties. The state does not provide additional funding.
For Lake County, the budget for the VAC will likely be about $5.8 million, according to officials. The budget is now 1.3 million dollars.
Joe McCoy, executive director of the Illinois Association of Counties, told members of the Lake County Board of Directors during an emergency committee meeting earlier this month that several counties had contacted his organization with concerns about the new law.
From left, the Veterans Assistance Committee of Lake County Assistant Superintendent Sherry Cross, Superintendent Andrew Tangin and Chief of Staff John Murray work Thursday in their office in Gurnee. In January, more money will be made available to the commission to help area veterans thanks to a new state law that gives a boost to these organizations.
– Paul Valade | Staff photographer
Perhaps the main concern is that counties will have to cut back or reduce other programs and services to accommodate larger VAC budgets.
To address this issue, McCoy said the association would like the law to exempt money used to fund VAC budgets from the county’s property tax cap, limiting how much the tax tax increases.
The association also urges that oversight provisions be added to the law to ensure that the financial affairs of the veterans’ committees are transparent to the public.
McCoy said the association would support postponing the law’s effective date if more time is needed to make the required improvements.
But some advocates of the law say any delay in implementing the new law will harm veterans.
Andrew Tangin, president of the Association of Veterans Aid Committees and executive director of the Lake County Commission, vehemently contested the idea when it was raised last week at an emergency Lake County Council committee meeting.
“I’m sorry, but I won’t just sit quietly and wait and allow more Lake County veterans to take their lives,” Tangin said.
Tangen said White Collar County Veterans Assistance Committees currently spend between $600,000 and $1 million each year on services.
He said all counties plan to hire new staff so they can serve more veterans next year, but exact budget numbers aren’t ready yet.
Tangin said that although the law would allow the Lake County Veterans Assistance Commission to increase its budget to $5.8 million, the agency aims to spend about $5 million, an amount that will support every veteran in need of assistance without waiting lists.
McCoy said state lawmakers would likely put a trailer bill through the veto hearing that he said would solve the law’s problems. He said the veto hearing around Thanksgiving is expected to be called.