Healthcare and Public Services
Mental health services
Too many residents of Champaign County end up in jail because they don't have access to mental health services. Increasing public access to mental health services must be a priority for the County Board. I support increased funding to the Champaign County Mental Health Board, which funds mental health programs throughout the county.
Fighting the Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic is a major public health crisis in Central Illinois, and it's changing fast. Synthetic opioids like Fentanyl are rapidly displacing heroin and more commonly prescribed opioids, making strategies like prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) less effective.
At the same time, the racist and ineffective "War on Drugs" needs to end. Instead, we should provide better access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction options for drug users, including distribution of fentanyl test strips in addition to the syringe access programs and naloxone training currently provided by the CU Public Health District. Safer injection facilities (SIF) have also been shown to dramatically reduce overdose deaths as well as the transmission of bloodborne illnesses such as hepatitis.
Ensuring access to housing
Despite valiant efforts from many residents and local organizations, Champaign County's homelessness crisis has worsened in the last few years. According to the Champaign County RPC, there are approximately 200 people experiencing homelessness at a given point in time - about a quarter of these are children. The vast majority are homeless only temporarily - they need shelter because of a bad break, like a loss of employment, or are escaping a domestic violence situation. Shelter space is limited - several local shelters are only open in the winter months.
A number of analyses across the country have found that housing the homeless and providing them with caseworkers to supervise their needs is better in every way - for the people, for the community, and for the budget - than leaving them homeless. There is no reason that Champaign County should allow its residents to stay homeless. I will fight for increased funding for shelters, transitional housing programs, and other services that can dramatically reduce the incidence of homelessness in Champaign County.
Homelessness isn't the only housing issue that needs to be solved; access to low-income housing is also lacking. The Housing Authority Section 8 Voucher program was last open for a single month in June 2016 - two years ago. More than 1 in 3 households, and nearly half of all renter-occupied households, spend more than 30% of their income on housing - and most of them spend more than half their income on housing.
At the same time, the level of high-end luxury construction is increasing in the area. Certain new development, particularly high-end apartment buildings, should mandate the construction or funding of affordable and low-income housing in the community by the developer.
We should implement the recommendations of the Racial Justice Task Force. In particular, it's long past time to end cash bail, reduce fines, and eliminate court fees. A substantial majority of people incarcerated in the County Jail are pretrial. Without being convicted of a crime, these people risk losing their jobs, their homes, and their children - while their families and those who depend on them suffer. In addition to being morally reprehensible, incarcerating someone who cannot afford a bail or bond payment of a few hundred dollars costs the County over $1000 per week. Along the same lines, we should not be incarcerating someone for driving on a suspended license, or for possessing a controlled substance.
We should go beyond that - we should reduce the size of our criminal justice system. In the last ten years, Champaign County has made admirable progress in reducing mass incarceration (although there's still work to be done). In 2008, the County Jail booked 9,600 inmates and transported 24,600 to court or to jail. In 2018, the jail expects to book in 5,400 inmates and transport 7,800 to court or to jail. Despite a 45% reduction in book-ins and a 70% reduction in transports, staffing levels at the jail are virtually unchanged. Reducing the number of correctional officers proportional to the reduction in inmates would save the County over $2 million per year, enough to pay for every single social service suggested on this page.
With Republicans across the country attacking voting rights and democratic institutions, it's more important than ever to build and expand a democracy where everyone's voice is heard.
Protecting the right to vote
I will work closely with the County Clerk's office to make sure that every eligible voter in Champaign County is able to vote. We should continue to expand vote-by-mail and early voting programs. Based on the information I have, I would not support the consolidation of polling places that was suggested by the County Clerk for several recent elections. The Clerk's office should monitor and release statistics on wait times in polling lines to ensure that voting machines and election judges are being allocated fairly throughout the county.
The County Clerk's office has suggested that voting machines may need to be replaced in the near future. These machines need to be safe against election interference and hacking. It's absolutely critical that they maintain paper ballots that can be counted by hand, for example. I'll use my experience and expertise as a computer scientist to make sure that Champaign County voters are protected from ballot fraud and tampering.
Allowing immigrants to vote in local elections
As a first-generation American, one of my proudest memories is the day my parents became American citizens. For nearly two decades, they paid taxes, supported their community, and sent their kids to school - without having a vote in how their community and the schools I went to were run.
In fact, noncitizen voting was legal in Illinois until 1848, and in many other states through the 1920s. Today, communities across the country, including College Park, MD., San Francisco (for school board elections), and Chicago (for school council elections), are granting immigrants the right to vote. Allowing immigrants on long-term visas who have resided in Champaign County for several years to vote will increase civic participation and help unite our diverse community.
Participatory budgeting is a form of direct democracy that allows you to have a direct say in how tax dollars are spent. Residents from each County Board district would be able to submit proposals for infrastructure improvement in their neighborhoods - better street lighting, playground and park improvements, road and sidewalk repair, and so on. Residents of that district can vote on the proposals, either electronically or in person, and the proposals that get the most votes get implemented until the funds allocated to participatory budgeting are exhausted.
Participatory budgeting is used around the country and around the world, in communities as diverse as Greensboro, NC; San Antonio, TX; Cambridge, MA; Phoenix, AZ; as well as in certain wards in Chicago and St. Louis. It's an efficient way of allocating funds that understands that people in a community understand what that community needs, and it increases civic engagement and builds trust in our institutions.
Accountability and Transparency
County agencies produce an enormous amount of data that can help the public learn more about how the government is functioning. Right now, each agency is responsible for publishing its own data, and not all agencies have staff with the skills and the time to organize this data in a way that's ideal for public consumption.With many of the county computer systems due for replacement, this is a perfect opportunity to create a centralized data clearinghouse that can be used by all local agencies to share information about their work with the public.
Every worker is entitled to a living wage. I support a $15 minimum wage in Champaign County, as well as an end to the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. Champaign County is an ideal jurisdiction to implement a living wage policy, since the geography of Champaign County and Central Illinois makes capital flight to neighboring jurisdictions difficult.
As a union member, I am a strong supporter of workplace democracy and organized labor. Workplace democracy is the idea that workers should have a say in how their workplace is run and organized - most commonly through unionization. On the county board, I will support union workers and unionization efforts in workplaces in the county. The County Board should insist on fairly compensated, unionized labor for publicly funded projects.
Champaign County should also support local worker-owned cooperatives. These businesses are owned and managed by the workers: as an employee continues to work there, they build up an ownership stake in that company. Day-to-day business decisions are voted on by the employees. This model builds wealth from the ground-up and gives people who otherwise would never be able to raise the capital to start a business the opportunity to achieve that part of the American Dream.