By Mitch Smith
7:33 PM EDT, April 14, 2013
When Sgt. Jason Hoster deployed to Kuwait last year, the $500 checks supported his father while he underwent chemotherapy for lung cancer. During an earlier tour in Afghanistan, the cash helped his mother cover expenses.
Those grants came from the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, a decade-old program that provides money to the relatives of Illinois National Guard members and military reservists who are summoned to active duty.
Some of the program’s funding comes from the check-off boxes on Illinois tax returns, where people can choose to donate to several causes. With Monday’s tax deadline looming, Gov. Pat Quinn encouraged procrastinating filers to consider contributing to the military fund.
Hoster, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard from Willowbrook, said the checks are a nice token of appreciation that help with day-to-day expenses back home. The last round of contributions, which came as his father pursued treatment for his cancer, was especially meaningful.
“It can help with a prescription or putting gas in the car to get him back to the hospital,” he said.
Many reservists and guardsmen see a pay cut when they leave civilian jobs for the battlefield. The state grants are meant to help bridge that gap and spare soldiers from fretting about a leaky roof back home, Quinn said.
“Things happen when you’re deployed,” the governor said Sunday at a news conference. “We don’t want our soldiers on the front lines worried about financial matters back home.”
Most Illinois service-member families receive $500 for each six months they serve overseas. Those with financial need can receive up to $2,000, and those whose soldier is wounded get $5,000. The grants aren’t charity, Quinn said, but “a token of our esteem and gratitude.”
Since the fund was established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, more than 27,000 Illinois families have received almost $15 million worth of grants, according to the governor. More than 35 other states have since established similar programs, according to Quinn’s office.
For 1st Sgt. Richard Winterfeld, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard from Streamwood, the grants were a small but appreciated benefit during his two deployments.
“It’s $500 I didn’t have before, and people use that to help pay bills and get by,” he said. “Every little bit helps.”
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