Pritzker highlights pension consolidation, budget investments for first responders
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Gov. J.B. Pritzker met Wednesday in Springfield with leaders from the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois in Springfield. The group discussed recent pension consolidation and investments in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to help first responders.
AFFI members and the governor highlighted efforts to secure retirement benefits for the firefighters. Pritzker said his administration worked with AFFI members, municipal leaders, and lawmakers to consolidate some of the 655 local police and firefighter pension plans to improve the rate of return on investments.
Now, the state is putting billions of dollars into one pension fund to get good returns and lower fees for the first responders.
“It’s also great for property taxpayers in local communities where they were seeing an upward pressure on property taxes because of the fact the returns were not great in the individual funds,” Pritzker said.
The governor said lawmakers had tried to tackle that issue for 75 years. AFFI President Chuck Sullivan said the organization is happy with the $7.5 billion investment in the firefighter pension fund. Members also thanked Pritzker for protecting death benefits for families and children of fallen firefighters.
Fire leaders also reflected on traumatic things they see on the job and the fact those images stay with them. Pritzker told AFFI members he wants to make more mental health and substance use treatment available to first responders. The governor said he would like to see lawmakers pass a plan during the next session for a standardized, anonymous way for first responders to seek that treatment without fear of retaliation.
“There are channels to do it right now. I think it’s just harder than it should be,” Pritzker said. “We want it to not affect your record. It should be that you can go get help and not later find out that a supervisor is holding you back from advancing.”
Pritzker also said that he will stand with first responders in support of the Workers’ Rights Amendment. He stressed that workers should be able to organize and not have the law change constantly from one administration to the next. Illinois voters will decide in November if the amendment should be added to the state constitution to protect the right to organize and collectively bargain.
“Since day one, Gov. Pritzker has stood with firefighters and paramedics across the state,” Sullivan said. “His support of issues that affect our retirement security, worker injury protections, and ability to collectively bargain has never wavered. His record speaks for itself, and it is reassuring to know that the governor has our best interests at heart.”
Sullivan also asked Pritzker to work with lawmakers to find a new way to recruit more firefighters and paramedics. He noted that it is still a good job with retirement security and decent pay. Sullivan said there were 1,000 people ready to test to become a firefighter when he first started in 1995. He stressed that the number of workers has shrunk over the last few years and a task force with stakeholders could help bring more attention to the importance of first responders.
“I think people take a lot of pride in being a firefighter or EMT and helping people. There are kids who grow up and dream of getting to do what you all do,” Pritzker said. “I think we’ll return to more normalcy over the next couple of years but in the meantime, we all have to worry about how are we going to attract people to fill these open positions.”
Some AFFI members suggested the state could provide more grants to help people train to become paramedics. They noted that paramedic programs take roughly two years to develop the proper skills needed on the job. Pritzker noted Illinois has increased MAP grant funding by 50% since he took office. He said there is specific MAP grant funding available for people at community colleges who may want to train to become firefighters. But Pritzker said there are other opportunities to create grants to help people have equitable access to training programs and jobs as first responders.
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