By Michael Romain
On June 5, State Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th) will be hosting his Second Annual Community Job Fair at the Broadview Park District. And a week later, on June 13, he’ll be hosting the Summit of Hope for Ex-Offenders at Proviso West High School in Hillside. I spoke with Rep. Welch about what motivated him to put on these initiatives, his general thinking on job creation and some of the jobs-related legislation he’s proposed in the Illinois House.
Job creation seems to be at the center of your community outreach activities.
One of the things I talked about in my 2012 campaign was that if I was elected, I’d focus on jobs, education and crime. And if you follow my legislation, I’ve been focusing on jobs, education and crime. I was worn in on January 9. From that day on, we’ve been focusing on those things. I have people calling me up all the time saying, ‘We need work.’
What kind of employers are going to be at the Second Annual Community Job Fair and what kind of skills will they be looking for?
We’ve got over twenty-five companies and state agencies ready, willing and able to hire people. Every agency and company will require different skills. So, the skill requirements depend on the employer and the jobs they’re offering. Some of the employers who will be coming out include the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Dep. of Transportation, the Illinois Tollway Authority, the Illinois Department of Human Services, Chase Bank, Walgreens, MB Financial Bank and Harris Bank. So, its going to be a wide-ranging spectrum of jobs available. We’ve been marketing heavily to those people just arriving home from college and are looking for employment. Also, I’ve run into a number of people looking for work and a great deal of people have backgrounds, which is why we’re doing the Summit of Hope.
Tell me more about that. What can participants expect from this event?
The Summit is a job fair and a resource event all rolled up into one. It’s designed solely to get ex-offenders back on their feet and headed in the right direction. So, for instance, we’ll have the Secretary of State there giving guys state ID cards, driver’s licenses, etc. The DHS will be there to work with guys who may owe child support and other debts. They’ll be able to attend this event and count it as a check-in with their parole officers. We’ll be administering penalty-free drug tests. We expect this event to attract over 2,000 ex-offenders, so we’re really looking for volunteers to help us work the event. It will be Thursday, June 13 from 8am to 4pm.
In addition to your outreach activities, what kind of legislation have you helped promote that deals with job creation?
What’s your larger, big picture thinking about job creation and what the government, in cooperation with the private sector, needs to do to get people working again?
I think the education and crime parts of my platform are critical to job creation. I think, from a policy perspective, we have to promote good schools. We can do it at the local and state levels. We need to make sure schools don’t get their funding cut. We’re passing a budget right now that doesn’t cut education funding. This is the first time in four years that this has happened. We have to properly educate people if we’re going to keep them out of jails and trouble. We also need policies that prevent crime on the front-end, as well as on the back-end — policies that help people find skills. But when we continuously cut education funding, we’re cutting our nose off to spite our face.
Job-training is also critical. We have done a good job of maintaining level funding for important measures such as public safety and human resources. So we can help organizations like PLCCA and Vision of Restoration receive state money to assist with particular job-training programs. And when the budget is approved this week, you will see the money is still there for these programs.
Weren’t you involved with helping Vision of Restoration receive an urban weatherization grant recently?
Yes. But first and foremost, organizations who apply for those grants have to do a good job with the application process. But I did write a letter advocating on their [VOR’s] behalf and I’d like to think that my letter and phone calls went a long way in getting it done. But I don’t want to take anything away from [VOR] and the work they put into that application.
For people who may not be familiar with the concept, weatherization is basically modifying residential and commercial buildings so that they use energy more efficiently and thus reduce energy consumption. So it entails things like caulking windows to prevent air from leaking, installing energy efficient ventilation systems, replacing drafty doors with more efficient foam-core doors, etc. These are the kinds of job skills VOR will be administering. These are supposed to be the jobs of the future. Do you think that this type of job-training can be scaled up?
We’re trying to get the General Assembly to increase the amount of grants from $500,000 to $1 million each. It probably won’t happen until next year, but its important that green, environmentally friendly jobs go to communities that need them. So, we’re trying not only to maintain, but to increase funding for these kinds of programs.
How important has the federal government been to state-level efforts at creating jobs?
I think President Obama and his administration have been very influential in helping districts like ours not just on jobs, but also on health care. For example, Senate Bill 26 basically creates Obamacare in Illinois. For every dollar we spend in Illinois, the federal government will match it. That will allow 342,000 additional low-income individuals get on healthcare and will create an additional 24,000 new jobs in healthcare to help deal with those new patients. That will help communities like the 7th district.
And I understand that you have resources for job-seekers available at your Westchester office?
Yes. People can go to my Westchester office on Roosevelt Road. We’re back open after severe flooding. There, I have pamphlets and brochures offering information on resume-writing (among other important matters) and other useful tips. VFP.
For information on job-hunting and/or to volunteer for one of Rep. Welch’s events, go to his district office at 100055 W. Roosevelt Rd., Suite E, Westchester, IL, or call (708) 450-1000.