When you grow up in rural Illinois, among your first lessons are to work hard, respect your elders and help when needed.
At least it was for me.
I grew up in Gifford, which has a population of about 800 people and is in the middle of great farmland in the northeast corner of Champaign County. My father was a truck driver, and my mother was a secretary at the U of I. There is no doubt the lessons I learned in that small town and at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which led me to where I am today – the elected treasurer of the state of Illinois and the only state official who does not live in Chicago.
Traditionally, the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office has a simple function – invest money on behalf of the state. What started in 1818 as small personal loans evolved into today’s $37 billion investment portfolio.
However, I know we can do more than monitor interest rates and balance sheets. When I was elected state treasurer in 2014, I had two primary goals. First, to be a vocal defender of downstate Illinois, and second, to help people help themselves.
We help people help themselves by investing in people.
Since World War II, an investment in higher education or a skilled trade paved the way to the middle class. This route still exists today, despite the enormous challenge of tuition. However, like investing, the solution is to plan for the long-term. Our college savings plans, Bright Start and Bright Directions, are tools to help pay for college or trade school.
Today, a record-shattering $15 billion is invested in these programs. In the short five years I have been in office, we have more than doubled the amount saved for college and saved families $100 million by demanding the reduction or elimination of certain fees charged by Wall Street.
If helping your family includes college or trade school, we can help you.
There is dignity in work. Yet, each of us knows someone who worked hard their entire life only to struggle in retirement. Social Security helps, but it never was intended to be the sole source of retirement income.
We created Secure Choice to combat the retirement crisis in America so people can use their own money to enjoy their latter years with dignity. Traditionally, a worker’s retirement savings program is tied to an employer. Secure Choice is available when an employer doesn’t offer retirement benefits.
In less than four years, we have enrolled 83,000 workers who have set aside $53 million. If helping yourself includes retirement savings, we can help you.
Ag Invest helps family farmers secure below-market loans from local bankers for everything from seed to buildings. We successfully expanded it to fill new markets such as specialized crops and wineries.
We are a national leader in the ABLE program that helps those with a disability save money without jeopardizing their federal benefits.
Finally, we partner with the private sector to provide ePay, an easy, safe and convenient electronic payment solution for units of local government such as city councils, library districts and park districts.
I am still proud to call downstate my home, and each day I try to pass along to my daughter the same lessons my parents taught me. Advocating for downstate residents is especially rewarding knowing that we share the same values of hard work, respect for your elders and help when needed.
After all, at the Illinois Treasurer’s Office, we are invested in you.