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$4.48M for e-signature system at food banks will better serve needy, governor’s office says

A new $4.48 million investment in Illinois food banks will digitize records and help streamline service for people in need, Gov. Pat Quinn’s office announced Wednesday.

Currently, food bank users sign paper copies of “declarations of eligibility” that are required by a federal food assistance program — resulting in millions of sheets of paper and hours of work for staff members tracking paperwork and collecting signatures, a statement from the governor’s office said.

“Nearly 260,000 households are served each month through our State Emergency Food Program, so you can imagine the mounds of paper that are used,” Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler said in the prepared statement.

The investment will purchase software, computer equipment, tablets and Internet access so hunger relief agencies can move to an electronic signature system, the statement said.

The money will allow all eight regional Feeding Illinois food banks — including the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank in west suburban Geneva — and their network of 1,800 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters to adopt the e-signature process, the statement said.

The eight regional food banks will invest $544,000 to train staff on the new digital sign-in and record-keeping system, the statement said. The new system follows a 2013 Illinois Commission to End Hunger recommendation to streamline the client signature process.

A pilot program carried out earlier this year at six Chicago-area food pantries showed the new e-signature system resulted in lower costs, greater efficiency and better service for clients, the statement said.

“Our food banks provide critical support to nearly two million residents each year,” Gov. Quinn said in the release. “This investment puts more focus on providing food to those in need. As we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals the next few days, I encourage everyone in Illinois to remember their neighbors and donate to their local food banks to further our goal of ending hunger.”

The $4.48 million in funding will come from the Illinois Jobs Now! program.