State law aims to increase spending to help veterans, but counties say hold on
A state law passed earlier this year could bolster funding for most county veterans’ commissions tasked with helping veterans.
Suburban veterans aid officials say the increased budgets will help eliminate the long waiting lists that veterans face before receiving help for issues such as hunger, housing or health care.
But the law, which applies to all counties except Cook, could be changed before it takes effect due to county officials’ concerns about oversight and the amount of money that will be allocated for such services. , among other problems.
As written, the new law allows VACs to set budgets up to a maximum of 0.02% of the total value of their counties’ equalized assessed properties, and counties must agree to them. The state does not provide additional funding.
For Lake County, that VAC budget would likely be around $5.8 million, officials said. The budget is now $1.3 million.
Joe McCoy, executive director of the Illinois Counties Association, told Lake County board members at an emergency committee meeting earlier this month that several counties had contacted his organization. with concerns about the new law.
From left, Deputy Superintendent Sherry Kruse of the Lake County Veterans Aid Commission, Superintendent Andrew Tangen and Chief of Staff John Murray work in their Gurnee office Thursday. In January, more money will be available for the commission to help area veterans thanks to a new state law giving such organizations a boost.
-Paul Valade | Personal photographer
Perhaps the main concern is that counties would have to scale back or reduce other programs and services to accommodate larger VAC budgets.
To address that issue, McCoy said the association would like the law to exempt money used to fund VAC budgets from the county property tax cap, which limits the amount of tax that can be raised.
The association is also calling for oversight provisions to be added to the law to ensure that the finances of veterans commissions are transparent to the public.
McCoy said the association would support delaying the law’s effective date if more time was needed to make the desired improvements.
But some advocates say any delay in implementing the new law would hurt veterans.
Andrew Tangen, president of the state Association for Veterans Assistance Commissions and executive director of the Lake County commission, strongly opposed the idea when it was raised last week during of the Lake County Council’s emergency committee meeting.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not going to sit quietly and wait and allow more Lake County veterans to take their own lives,” Tangen said.
Tangen said Collar County Veterans Aid Commissions currently spend between $600,000 and $1 million annually on services.
He said all counties plan to hire new staff so they can serve more veterans next year, but exact budget numbers are not yet ready.
Tangen said that while 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 who needs help without waiting lists.
McCoy said state lawmakers would likely craft a trailer bill during the veto session that he said would resolve the issues with the law. He said the veto session should be convened around Thanksgiving.