GOP attacks ‘rebranded’ NRI program, Quinn ridicules claim

SHARE GOP attacks ‘rebranded’ NRI program, Quinn ridicules claim

SPRINGFIELD — The ranking Republican on a legislative panel probing the failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative accused Gov. Pat Quinn Thursday of launching a “rebranded” multimillion-dollar anti-violence program designed to boost his re-election chances ahead of next month’s election.

A Quinn spokesman branded state Sen. Jason Barickman’s claim as “false and ridiculous,” and said the state dollars in question that were expended since July 1 went to pay for programming authorized in the previous state budget cycle.

Barickman, R-Bloomington, was joined by state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, in alleging that Quinn was siphoning off millions of dollars to some of the same social-service providers who took a drubbing in a February audit of the 2010 NRI program.

“With every dollar the Quinn administration takes away from communities like mine, he’s providing it to his politically connected pals in Chicago,” Barickman told reporters at a statehouse press conference.

“He’s doing it ahead of an election, and he’s doing it while he’s saying he’s not. So every time we hear the governor say, ‘Don’t worry about the NRI program. We shut it down,’ the reality is if you just follow the money, what the money shows you here is that he’s trying to benefit some of these same providers that are all over the NRI audit in the weeks before the election,” Barickman said.

Last spring, state lawmakers appropriated $16.5 million to the Department of Human Services to fund a state-wide program for at-risk youth called Comprehensive Community Based Youth Services.

Barickman said that at some point after July 1, Quinn’s administration moved nearly $4.5 million to the state Criminal Justice Information Authority, which in turn allotted nearly $2 million of that total to five different NRI providers, including Chicago Area Project.

Chicago Area Project was responsible for nearly $2 million in programming in West Garfield Park under NRI and hired the husband of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown at a six-figure salary to oversee that programming. State taxpayers covered the $146,401 Cook received in salary and fringe benefits over two years for his NRI-related work.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last spring that Benton Cook III created a not-for-profit that received $3,333 of those dollars before having its NRI contract terminated by Chicago Area Project.

Brown’s signature showed up on a February 2012  report to the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority that outlined NRI spending by Cook’s organization, Dream Catchers Community Development Corp. She identified herself on that document as Dream Catchers’ fiscal manager.

Chicago Area Project issued a short statement in response to Barickman’s allegations.

“CAP receives funding from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority for its ongoing youth violence prevention programming and has received funding from DHS for its youth services programming for the past 15 years. CAP has not received any new funding from DHS this year,” group spokesman Jennifer Hutchison said.

The group’s Criminal Justice Information Authority funding was for the non-profit’s summer youth violence prevention programming, and the contract ended August 30, Hutchison said.

Quinn’s administration was quick to ridicule the Republican allegation, saying that no new programming had been authorized and that funds expended since July were to cover programming authorized in the state’s previous fiscal year that ended June 30.

“This is false and ridiculous,” Abdon Pallasch, Quinn’s assistant budget director, said of Barickman’s claim. “As these legislators know, the defunct NRI program was shut down in 2012.”

Quinn’s administration said the funding Barickman alluded to was transferred to the Criminal Justice Information Authority in July to pay bills for the summer community-violence prevention program, which ended in August.

It and the other non-profits the Republicans singled out did not obtain any new or additional funding, and no local providers’ budgets were cut elsewhere in the state to pay for the programming, a Quinn aide said.

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