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Kinzinger visits VAC after agency misses out on federal grant again

SYCAMORE – U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, learned on Thursday’s tour of the Voluntary Action Center that the agency is doing more with less, and could have to keep that practice going since the nonprofit wasn’t awarded a coveted federal transportation grant.

VAC applied this year for the highly competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The money funds capital projects, and VAC asked for $18 million to build the DeKalb County Multimodal Transportation Facility.

“Ultimately, it comes down to the amount of resources and the amount of grants available,” said Kinzinger, whose 16th District includes DeKalb and parts of 13 other Illinois counties. “What it comes down to is, we’ve got to look long-term at the budget issues in this country and figure out how to fix them.”

The proposed 83,500-square-foot facility was to be built along Barber Green Road near Peace Road in DeKalb, and provide room to store and maintain VAC’s bus fleet and create more office space.

The Daily Chronicle spoke with the three-term congressman, who is running unopposed for re-election in November, after he toured the VAC facility where officials explained the need for a new, bigger transportation hub.

Ellen Rogers, VAC executive director, led Kinzinger through the agency’s cramped quarters where staff are squeezed into work spaces to do jobs that affect thousands of DeKalb County residents.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” she said about the TIGER grant. “We need something new. We’re dealing with some major maintenance [issues].”

She has turned her hopes to a $15 million state grant application that still is pending.

Still, Rogers and Pam Blickem, who is on the VAC board and was present for the tour, continue to praise the local community for supporting the nonprofit.

“We have great community partners,” Blickem said.

Rogers pointed out that most of the grants VAC applies for, including the TIGER, require some local support.

“We happen to surpass it [the minimum requirements] far more than a lot of other areas,” Rogers said. “We don’t simply rely on the government for our funding because that would be unrealistic.”

Kinzinger said he doubts that the state’s fiscal mess had any bearing on VAC not getting the TIGER funding. But he said he isn’t 100 percent sure about that.

Illinois went all of fiscal 2016 without a state budget, and has only a stopgap appropriation plan in place for the current fiscal year. In fact, when the city of DeKalb submitted the TIGER application on behalf of VAC, the state was in the throes of an impasse that saw nonprofit organizations – especially social service ones – bear the brunt of it.

“It was a disappointing year, frankly, for Illinois – outside of Chicago. We’re going to look into what’s going on and why that’s the case and see what we can do next time,” Kinzinger said.

But the congressman pointed out that there is no shortage of projects, nationwide, seeking financial backing.

“There is federal funding. There is federal support,” he said. “The problem is the needs grow, and the federal support is not necessarily growing with it.”

*Published by the Daily Chronicle, written by Rhonda Gillespie