Williamson County, Illinois commissioners reinstate welfare program


Reporter - Kathryn DiGisi

MARION, Ill. - People in Williamson County, Illinois have gone without a welfare program since December, because the County Commissioners could not agree on the programs guidelines.

On Tuesday, they came to an agreement, but it was not easy.

The application requires that recipients be a Williamson County resident, 21 or older, or living with a spouse, or 18,19, or 20 years old and not living with a parent.

The application also requires that a recipient was found not eligible for state or federal benefits.

County Commissioner Ron Ellis could not agree with the line that allows people as young as 18 years of age to receive welfare.

It was a busy afternoon at the Shepherd's Closet Food Pantry in Marion, but that is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Well, this morning I filled 50 bags before I ever opened and I went through them real fast," said pantry manager Cissie Fosse.

Fosse says the need in the community is great.

"Some of them come in and they have 10 or 12 kids and they don't know how they're going to make it," said Fosse.

The county's General Assistance program is meant to help those people who are having trouble making ends meet, like the ones who frequent Shepherd's Closet.

But since December, the Williamson County Commissioners have not been able to agree on the programs guidelines.

Commissioner Ron Ellis says it is wrong to offer welfare to 18,19, and 20-year-olds.

"We're giving them a blue print on how to get on welfare.  Bad, bad precedent in my opinion," said Ellis.

But commissioners Brent Gentry and Jim Marlo say morals aside, they have to obey state law, which requires counties to have the program.

"I think many of us in this room don't like driving 55, wearing seat belts, but it's the law. And the law is the law," said Gentry.

Despite that rationale, Ellis was still conflicted.

"I'm going to abstain from this vote, I'm not going to vote," said Ellis.

The reinstatement of the General Assistance Program still passed with the two votes.

The commissioners did find something to agree on: implementing drug testing into the application process.

Another hurdle that counties across Illinois will face is funding the program.

While it is a state mandated, it is not state funded; it is up to each county to decide how they want to cover the cost.

Williamson County is still deciding where to cap the budget, and what to do when the money runs out.