Misspent Funds in Illinois

May 1, 2012

In 2008, the state of Illinois began a summer jobs program for teens. The program was meant to employ teens for an eight-week period, during which non-profit organizations would handle the particulars of the employment. It was handled by the Department of Human Services in Illinois, but funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation’s general fund. Overall the program made $3 million in questionable payments according to a new audit released Monday.

The program was designed to curb a recent string of youth-related violence and was created by the now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration. From the outset the program was very questionable. For legal reasons, Ann Schneider, the Transportation Finance Director during that time, placed requirements that the funds employ teens working on transportation projects. Instead the funds went to programs that paid for teens to work on golf courses, re-arrange furniture, and conduct community surveys for non-profits around the state.

To make matters worse, the safeguards that Schneider attempted to put in place, in the form of contracts with non-profits employing the teens, were not signed until the project was well under way and were never monitored by IDOT itself. A spokesman for current Gov. Pat Quinn, who recently acknowledged the growing fiscal crisis in the state, said senior IDOT managers today have been, “counseled on monitoring procedures and how to ensure this never happens again.”

Though auditors identified the $3 million in questionable payments, only $644,000 from five of the non-profits is being pursued by the state because, according to the same auditors, pursuing the full amount would mean long legal battles – battles that would cost the state more time and money than it is apparently worth.

While programs like the above are started with the best of intentions, they clearly do not always follow through on them. Instead of actively bringing benefits to the state by employing teens and young adults to improve the state’s transportation system, $3 million dollars was spent on golf courses. Schneider, who is now secretary of transportation, says no employees or former employees will be penalized. Considering Illinois’ current financial troubles, it is hopeful that the state politicians and bureaucrats will be more careful about where they spend the state’s money.

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