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Illinois Borrowing Money From Charities To Pay Bills In Budget Crisis

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The Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund is a charity named after a Democratic state senator who died of breast cancer in 1998. The charity doles out money to advance research into cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

Feeding Illinois provides food for hungry people throughout the state, serving over 250,000 people each year and providing a total of 109 million pounds of food to hungry families.

Healthy Smiles is a public health initiative started by now-Gov. Pat Quinn when he was the state's Lieutenant Governor, working to improve access to dental hygiene and educate children about proper dental care.

These are among the several worthy charities that are part of the Illinois tax check-off program. It's a program that allows taxpayers in the state to simply check a box on their tax forms and make tax-deductible donations to charities around the state.

These are also among the several charities whose monies have been pillaged by the state of Illinois in a desperate attempt to pay its bills.

In fiscal year 2010, the state took around $434,000 in so-called "sweeps," emergency cash-grabs that aren't required to be paid back, from the charity check-off money.

The amount was much higher in FY 2011 -- almost $1.2 million. This year, however, the money was taken in the form of borrowing, though it's unclear exactly when that will be paid back.

The money was seized in an attempt to pay down some of the state's multi-billion-dollar budget deficit.

"This is crazy," said Stephanie Record, executive director of the Crisis Nursery of Champaign County, one of the organizations on the check-off listing expecting to receive cash from the state. Record told the News-Gazette of Champaign:

My concern is that the taxpayers don't know that they're donating to charities that don't even get their money. It just seems really inappropriate to use charities to pull money in, and then pull that money out to pay for bills.

The Illinois Times, which originally broke the story, reports that state Republicans are critiquing the move as well. Those are donations made by the taxpayers of Illinois,” Patty Schuh, spokesperson for Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, told the Times. Radogno voted against the sweeps in 2009. “They have the expectation that their donations will go toward the services they’ve donated to.”

A spokesman for the governor told the Associated Press that the money will be returned within a few months, but the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, part of Feeding Illinois, reports that it has not received any money donated on tax forms from 2009 or 2010. Tracy Smith, executive director of Feeding Illinois, is anxious about the fate of the funds.

"We would have a real problem if we went around asking our donors to give money to this tax fund and we never saw this money," she said.

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