EFFINGHAM — In the last regular meeting of the current Effingham County Board before new members are seated next month, the board approved last week several requests for funding as the county continues to allocate ARPA funds.
The county has been allotted $6.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funds provided to state and local governments that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Effingham County Board approved a funding request from Community Support Systems for $345,000 to purchase new buses that would help alleviate the organization’s ongoing transportation crisis, which has limited CSS’ ability to provide services to developmentally disabled residents throughout the county.
Prior to the board’s approval, CSS Executive Director Andy Kistler was the first of many CSS supporters and representatives to speak before the Effingham County Tax and Finance Meeting about the funding request on Nov. 17.
Kistler criticized committee members, who are also board members, for their reluctance to approve CSS’ transportation funding request when it was brought to the board’s attention last year.
“The spring of 2021 we began to ask for assistance with transportation because we had experienced issues with transportation because of COVID,” Kistler said.
He explained to the board that it is not an option for CSS to find funding elsewhere, especially if that means charging the parents and other family members of the residents who benefit from services provided by CSS.
“Charging parents extra for transportation, charging parents extra for physical therapy, occupational therapy, developmental therapy services, that’s Medicaid fraud,” Kistler said.
Kistler urged them to approve the funding request, not just for CSS but for the betterment of the entire county.
“When you consider funding for these individuals, don’t think of them as disabled individuals. They’re sons and daughters, they’re brothers and sisters, they’re your neighbors, they’re friends, they’re your family. So we ask for your positive consideration,” Kistler said.
Patty Hooper, the mother of an autistic 19-year-old, said without the services CSS provides her son wouldn’t have his current job. Hooper is also a CSS staff member.
“He works at IGA and has been receiving job coaching services through CSS. He’s doing amazing. He’s so proud of his paychecks. He saves almost every dime, and he’s saving for a house,” Hooper said.
“I’m just asking that you show my son that he matters just as much as the rest of us.”
Another mother, Sharon Mendenhall, said her child depends on CSS for transportation. She said she lives on a fixed income and told committee members that as she grows older, she is becoming more concerned about the future of her child.
“I’m 74 years old. I’m not gonna be around very much longer,” Mendenhall said. “Who’s gonna take care of my child when I’m gone.”
Another CSS parent, Joe Williamson, said if it weren’t for the transportation CSS provides for his 21-year-old daughter, Emily, she would be stuck at home with very little to do.
Like other parents who spoke during the meeting, Williamson discussed the independence his daughter has found through CSS.
“I just ask that you give her the opportunity to complete her transition from school kid into adulthood, so that she can become more self-sufficient,” Williamson said. “Emily, if she had to stay home the whole time, she would not be the person she is today. She has grown so much.”
Joe Emmerich, president of John Boos and Co., also spoke in support of the funding request at the committee meeting. He said his company has employed a number of residents through CSS who have been beneficial to his company.
“We’ve been partnering with CSS since the ‘70s,” Emmerich said. “They’ve helped our business to grow.”
Emmerich said the three workers the company currently employs through CSS have been productive and hard working, and he urged the committee to focus on the outcome rather than the cost of the request.
“Is it the money or is it doing the right thing?” Emmerich asked.
Other ARPA funding requests the County Board approved are:
- Disbursement of $150,000 for the childcare research committee’s Gap Scholarship program.
- Earmarking $50,000 for Mason Township Park District for building improvements to a shelter and a library.
- Disbursement of $14,000 to Heartland Human Services for employee retention, training and recruitment.
- Appropriation of $440,000 for the Effingham County Clerk and Recorder for upgrades to the office’s recording software without committee recommendation.
In other matters, the board:
• Approved U.S. Rep. Mike Bost’s occupancy of what was previously the office of former United States Representative John Shimkus.
• Approved the designation of Michelle Kollman as Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund authorized agent as of Dec. 1.
• Accepted the resignation of County Circuit Clerk John Niemerg.
• Approved the appointment of Effingham Fire Chief Brant Yochum to the Effingham County 911 Board.
• Approved the appointment of Rick Manford to replace Matt Sager on the Effingham County Ambulance Oversight Committee.