Notice we said partially… not fully.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture returns to its’ practice of designating funds from the soil and water conservation program by allocating $1 million to Soil Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) for the purposes of partially offsetting the costs of basic health insurance for the SWCD employees.
This practice existed prior to the 2015 Illinois Budget Impasse. The Impasse lasted 793 days, leaving Illinois without a complete state budget for the following fiscal years; FY2016, FY2017, and part of FY 2018. The budget crisis caused funding to be stripped from numerous entities, one of which being the SWCD’s, or as many like to call, the boots on the ground that keep our soil healthy and our water clean.
$1 million may seem like a lot of money, but the funds still do not meet the health coverage needs of the SWCD’s, $1.6 million is the goal.
Grant Hammer, the Executive Director of the Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (AISWCD) states, “This is certainly welcome news, and a small step in the right direction. It will have an immediate effect of helping to retain existing conservation personnel, critical to the SWCD conservation delivery infrastructure, while also providing SWCDs with a useful tool to attract new employees to careers in conservation.”
For years Districts have been operating with funding cuts. “Although this is very welcome and encouraging news, this funding is not new funding. Mirroring the state’s budget woes, funding for soil and water conservation programs (have) diminished significantly in recent years, and SWCDs have resultantly felt the impacts” says Hammer.
Program funding cuts have led to a loss of institutional knowledge, just as SWCDs are met with an increase of responsibilities: rolling out of the Fall Cover for Spring Savings Program (December 2019) and the continued support for adoption of the Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources (S.T.A.R.) Program. Districts should be fairly compensated for the work that each of the 97 County District offices are doing to meet Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy Goals and making each new conservation program in Illinois a success.
We need to recognize Soil and Water Conservation Districts doing amazing work for our environment and climate. Last year, the Illinois Capitol Budget appropriated $7.5 million to Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), which have faced nearly a 70% budget cut since 2008. A coalition of supporters, including the Alliance, will continue to lobby for a restoration of full funding, to maintain (and increase) necessary staffing levels at District offices.
Grant Hammer of AISWCD, invites “partners, stakeholders, and individuals passionate about conservation to join the Association this spring in advocating for funding levels that support the SWCD conservation delivery system.”