Low-income, rural residents affected by Illinois budget cuts

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Friday is the last day for public transit service in Illinois towns like Waterloo, Red Bud and Sparta. The lack of an Illinois state budget is forcing the Monroe Randolph Transit District to shut its doors indefinitely.

The not-for-profit agency serves a predominantly rural population ranging from school children who need transportation from day care to school to seniors who must get to medical appointments. The vehicles can handle wheel chairs.

Transit driver Terry Waldron is worried about his clients who need to get to a job and don’t own a car or those who require dialysis treatment three times a week.

“Daily I have people say I don’t know what I’d do without this,” Waldron said.

The agency’s executive director, Jesica Gentry, worked to keep the service running as long as possible. She expected $147,000 in federal dollars and $650,000 in state funds to keep the service operating from July 1 through June of 2016.

“We are the only provider of public transportation in Monroe and Randolph counties and this is a vital service to the people in our area and we want to be open,” she said Thursday. On Friday, she and 19 other employees will be laid off.

Passengers paid $8 round-trip for scheduled rides within the district and $20 round-trip into St. Louis or Belleville. The agency also receives reimbursement from programs like Medicaid, but those payments are not enough to keep the 12 and 14 passenger vehicles running.

Illinois State Representative Jerry Costello II is hopeful a Senate bill will make the federal funds available. But he wants to be sure it also mandates state funds for those federal programs that require a state match.

SB 2042 would release nearly $5 billion in federal funds to social service agencies ranging from Meals on Wheels programs to child care and public transit service like the Monroe Randolph agency.

“A lot of these programs save the state money because they keep our seniors out of nursing homes,” he said.

A spokesperson for Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said he supports the measure. The Senate approved it Tuesday. The Illinois House will take it up next week.