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Years After Promise Of $100,000 From State And Photo-Op Prop Check, AMVETS Post 14 In Clinton, Illinois Has Not Seen A Dime

CLINTON, Ill. (CBS) -- A few years ago, a photo op from the State of Illinois showed a giant prop check being held up for downstate veterans – made out in the amount of $100,000.

But those veterans have not seen a dime.

Distressed, they reached out to us at CBS 2. And as CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards reported Thursday night, they have a message for Springfield – if it's listening.

In itty bitty Clinton, Illinois, Ed Beck – who served America in the Armed Forces – now serves as commander of AMVETS, short for American Veterans, Post 14.

"We do a lot for the community," Beck said.

Some 100 vets - for support, advocacy, and other needs - rely on Post 14.

The trouble is Post 14 is tiny – with not even 600 square feet of space.

In 2014, the State of Illinois awarded the post that $100,000 grant to expand and better serve vets with medical care and counseling.

AMVETS filled out the form and planned to start construction. The trouble is – well, there's always trouble, isn't there?

"The whole thing's a mess," Beck said.

That's an understatement.

What happened was then-state Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Marion) delivered that giant prop check for a photo op to the AMVETS in 2018. In the photo with Mitchell and the giant prop check was Vietnam Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient Jessie Owens.

AMVETS Post 14 Photo-Op Check
(Supplied to CBS 2)

"When Mitchell comes down and give us that check, we thought it was a done deal and we were ready to start working on it then," Owens said.

On the left of the check was Mark Rogers, chaplain for AMVETS Post 14. His prayers, like many, went unanswered by Springfield.

"No follow-up, no - we keep asking and we get the runaround," Rogers said.

So seven years after the initial promise of $100,000, and three years after the big prop check hoopla, they have nothing.

"If, you know, a veteran service officer wanted to work with a veteran one-on-one, basically, they'd have to use the whole building – because there's no privacy," Beck said.

Pat Quinn was Illinois governor when AMVETS got the grant in 2014. Bruce Rauner came and went as governor afterward, and now, Gov. JB Pritzker is in charge.

With the passage of time and a promise, there has not been a penny delivered.

"Their answer was: 'We're busy. We have a lot to do,'" said veteran Art Rodriguez.

"It's totally bipartisan, because we weren't able to get the check when we had a Republican governor, and we're still not able to get a check with a Democratic governor," Beck added.

We tracked down former state Rep. Mitchell for his take.

"I'm sorry that it's come to this," Mitchell said. "These people are veterans. They deserve the money. I'm going to give Governor Pritzker the benefit of the doubt that working with my successor, they can get this done. I would never do a photo op without the appropriation."

Translation - the money was there, or so thought Mr. Mitchell.

And why wouldn't he? There's even a line in the budget that year, spelling out $100,000 for our vets.

But years later, they feel blindsided.

"We've basically almost given up hope," Rogers said. "We have no faith."

We don't always cover stories so far from Chicago. But we believe in promises like the 2018 letter from then-Rep. Mitchell to AMVETS Post 14, and we try to get to the bottom of finger-pointing - which is why these vets reached out to us in the first place.

"The best investigative reporting - and this is not just to blow smoke up you - that I've seen lately has been on your channel," Rodriguez said.

So to the members of Post 14 - we say thank you for your service. Here's hoping our little story here can be of service to you.

So where do things stand now? The current state rep for that area, Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) – a veteran himself – is fighting for the funding, but blames Democrats.

We also reached out to the state department involved with these grants. This is our complete exchange with the grant administration manager for the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, or DCEO.

CBS 2: "Any idea what the holdup is? Any idea what, if anything, you can do to get these vets the money they've been promised?"

DCEO: "This grant never received an executed grant agreement, it was only in the planning/application stage and never received a funding source. Therefore, this proposed project was never able to move forward.

"I would suggest the entity work with their local legislator to try to secure new funding or grant opportunities."

CBS 2: "Thanks for the reply. The AMVETS received a photo op check from their then-lawmaker. That lawmaker tells us the money was appropriated and he would never have done the photo op had the money not been there.

"So we're a little confused at this point. Is that lawmaker incorrect? He made it seem like the money's there but the governor/legislature need to simply release it.

DCEO: "Our projects are appropriated in the capital bill (usually on an annual basis), however, capital projects require bonds to be sold in order to fund the projects. Not all projects noted in the capital bill necessarily receive funding due to limited funds available via bond sales.

"Until there is an executed grant agreement, there is no binding contract or document (and we aren't able to make any payments)."

CBS 2: "But again, the then-state rep sent the AMVETS a letter that they got the grant and delivered the big photo op check. So it sounds like perhaps he jumped the gun and it was not a done deal?"

DCEO: "Until there is an executed grant agreement, there is no binding contract or document (and we aren't able to make any payments).

"We currently advise all pending grantees to hold off on any public announcements until there is an executed grant agreement. I'm not sure what the guidance would have been, or if we were asked for any, back in 2015/2016."

An Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity spokesperson also issued this statement:

"DCEO remains focused on deploying Rebuild Illinois capital dollars to spark economic development projects and the jobs they create for communities across our state. We work closely with the General Assembly as well as GOMB to release grants once funding has been assigned. In this case, the project is a lawmaker initiative and its release is dependent on the prioritization of the project by the sponsoring caucus."

A spokesperson for Gov. Pritzker further issued this statement:

"This grant predates the Pritzker administration, but it is our understanding that this project was released prior to the capital impasse years ago, but never reached a signed grant agreement and then was included in the FY19 bill as a new line and reappropriated each year. It has not been requested for release by the sponsoring House Republican caucus. This project is a lawmaker initiative and its release is dependent on the prioritization of the project by the sponsoring caucus.

"Questions about the release of funds should be directed to the former lawmaker who did not do their due diligence to ensure this funding made its way to those he promised it to before handing out a big check to get headlines."

"The Pritzker administration is committed to ensuring Rebuild Illinois funds are used to invest in communities around the state and has worked with lawmakers to ensure their projects are funded and completed."

Meanwhile Thursday, Gov. Pritzker's office announced Thursday that he has signed the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, for which he highlighted success. But in a $42.3 billion balanced budget, there still is not $100,000 for those vets in Clinton.

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