Week-in-Review: Sept. 30 – Oct. 4, 2019

Illinois has been ranked the least tax-friendly state in a new study. Meanwhile, state officials will be using the month of October to educate people about cybersecurity, and residents can now apply for help with heating bills.

In other news, IDOT is looking for snowplow drivers, and harvest could be rough for farmers, whether they are growing corn or hemp.

Illinois ranked least tax-friendly state

Personal finance publication Kiplinger has ranked all U.S. states to determine which is the most, and the least, tax-friendly, based on the tax burden placed on residents. According to the publication, Wyoming is the most tax-friendly. The least tax-friendly is probably easy to guess for most homeowners here, as Illinois takes the bottom spot, primarily due to the property tax burden.

According to Kiplinger’s, Illinois averages $2,048 in property taxes per $100,000 of home value, compared to $635 for Wyoming. Illinois wasn’t the only Midwestern state to land in the 10 worst spots, Wisconsin was ranked 4th least friendly, Ohio 8th, and Iowa 9th.

For more information, visit https://www.kiplinger.com/tool/taxes/T055-S001-kiplinger-tax-map/index.php.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month

Throughout October, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology are working with local municipal agencies to raise awareness of cyber-security issues and to help educate people on how to stay safe online.

Security tips from the agencies include:

Configure your computer securely.
Use privacy and security settings in your software, email system, and web browsers.
Regularly update your anti-virus software to identify and thwart new strains of malicious software.

Keep software, and operating systems updated. Install all software updates as soon as they are available. Using the “auto-update” setting is the best way to ensure timely updates.

Use strong passwords.

Cybercriminals use automated programs that will try every word in the dictionary in a few minutes. When creating a password, use at least 10 characters, with a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

Be cautious about links and attachments. Even communications you receive that appear to be from friends and family may contain links to malicious sites, so be careful when clicking on links in those messages. When in doubt, delete it.

For more information, visit https://www2.illinois.gov/ready/Pages/default.aspx.

Snowplow drivers wanted

The Illinois Department of Transportation is hiring temporary full-time and part-time snowplow drivers for the winter season.

Full-time “Winter Salaried Highway Maintainers” or “Monthly Snowbirds” perform all the same duties as year-round maintainers, including the maintenance, repair and upkeep of roads, bridges, and other related structures and features, but are hired monthly. The agency also hires on-call, hourly “Snow Removal Operators” or “Hourly Snowbirds,” who respond to emergency weather situations to operate snow plows and salt spreaders, inspect roadways, and remove obstacles from roadways.

Both positions require a Class A or B CDL with an X or N endorsement. To apply for either position, visit http://idot.illinois.gov/about-idot/employment-opportunities/seasonal-employment/index.

Heating assistance program begins

The enrollment period for the state’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) opened earlier this week. The program offers assistance with heating bills for households at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. That income level ranges from around $1,500 per month for a single person to just over $3,200 per month for a family of four.

On Oct. 1, enrollment opened for seniors ages 60 and older, as well as households that contain a member who is disabled, who receives a permanent disability benefit. On Nov. 1, enrollment expands to households with children younger than six, and homes where service has been or will soon be cut off. After Dec. 1, all other qualifying households may apply.

For more information, visit https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/communityservices/utilitybillassistance/.

Harvest could be tough for a variety of crops

While most Illinois farmers are still waiting to begin their harvest, the USDA has released slightly optimistic news in terms of the quality of the corn crop. So far, only 4 percent of the state’s corn has been harvested, compared to 45 percent at the same time in 2018.

In terms of crop quality, the USDA is now rating 47 percent of the state’s corn as good or excellent, a slight bump from just 45 percent last week. Crop quality is still down significantly year-over-year however, as 80 percent of the corn crop was rated as good or excellent at the same point in 2018.

In August, the USDA declared an agriculture disaster for all 102 Illinois counties, in response to a request for federal aid from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, due to damage caused by heavy spring rains and historic flooding that delayed or stopped planting in many fields.

Industrial hemp growers are gearing up for harvest as well. 2019 marks their first harvest under the state’s new industrial hemp program. They are required to alert the Illinois Department of Agriculture before they begin harvesting, so that the agency can test the crop to make it sure it meets the limit of less than 0.3 percent THC content. If testing shows the content breaking the limit, the crop has to be destroyed, and that loss will not be eligible for federal crop insurance. The agency says at this point, none of those acres of hemp have been ordered to be destroyed due to THC levels.

According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, 17,808 acres were licensed for hemp production this year. The total amount of acres in production could be less than that, though, because hemp growers faced the same issues as corn and soybean farmers in terms of getting their crop in during an unusually wet year.

Dave Syverson

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