With nearly $18 million in funds being withheld, the University of Illinois Extension could be forced to layoff 450 employees.
Gary Beaumont, spokesperson for the U of I Extension, explains that two line items for the fiscal year 2008 state budget allocated funding for the Extension. Through the County Board Match, Extension expected $12.8 million, while the Cook County Initiative provided for just over $5 million.
"That's pretty much half the funding for our programs," Beaumont says. "This is a big blow for Extension."
Of the 450 jobs that could be cut, 96 are related to the Cook County Initiative. Beaumont explains that this was started to promote Extension activities in the Chicago area. The remainder of jobs will be cut from counties across the state.
"The people are the program," Beaumont says. "They deliver the workshops and education."
According to Governor Rod Blagojevich's office, withholding funding is necessary to make up for a $750 million deficit in the 2008 budget, which was passed by lawmakers.
Although the funds withheld add up to approximately $18 million, Beaumont says the impact will be much greater on Extension's budget.
Since the state fiscal year begins July 1, Beaumont says the majority of the funding was already spent.
"The money was allocated and here we are three-fourths of the way through the fiscal year," Beaumont says.
He adds that many of the employees are in contracts with Extension. To get out of the contracts and pay off the remaining obligations, Beaumont says the financial impact will be in the neighborhood of $29 million.
Beaumont says jobs on the cutting floor will include crop educators, unit directors, staff for youth agriculture programs, and part-time employees.
Beaumont says Extension is still hoping the money will be released. University executives are currently in discussions with the state to attempt to secure the funding.
Beaumont says Extension hopes to have a contingency in plan by May 1. He also urged residents to call their congressman.
"If people want Extension programs, now is certainly the time to tell their state legislator," Beaumont says.
A joint Illinois House and Senate Ag Committee hearing is scheduled for April 16 to take testimony from groups that will be impacted from the funds being withheld.