The state budget that takes effect July 1 includes $12 million to fund the state’s witness protection program, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford told members of the Leaders Network at their monthly meeting.

The funding will help neighbors actively assist in reporting crimes, cover witness protection costs, and pay for a tip line and a pilot program to use ring cameras to help solve crimes, Ford said at last week’s meeting.

In March, faith leaders and community activists demanded the Illinois General Assembly funded the state’s witness protection program, something ministers and other community advocates have been seeking for many years.

“You asked for at least $50 million,” Ford said. “The governor and the legislature reduced the witness protection down to $12 million.”

Faith leaders said funding for the witness protection program was long overdue and thanked the Austin lawmaker for getting it included in the state’s $46.5 billion budget. Yet faith leaders and others attending last week’s Leaders Network meeting told Ford that more money is needed to sustain the program.

Funds for other public safety and anti-crime efforts are included in the state budget, with $124 million dedicated to law enforcement for ballistic testing, forensic equipment and non-deadly equipment.

Investing in non-deadly equipment is an effort to use “less risking-life methods” when police officers respond to incidents, Ford said.

In addition, he said the state budget includes $70 million for domestic violence protection, $2 million for trauma recovery centers and additional funds for substance-use disorders.

Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) also attended the meeting, during which he explained how the new map proposed by the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus proposes to redraw the city’s 50 wards for the next decade, when the next U.S. Census is held.

The map, known as the Chicago United map, creates 16 wards with a majority of Black voters; one ward with a plurality of Black voters; 14 wards with a majority of Latino voters; one ward with a majority of Asian voters; and 18 wards with a majority of white voters.

“The Chicago United map is what’s gonna be best not only for the West Side but is what’s gonna be best for all Chicago,” said Ervin, who is chairman of the council’s black caucus.

The map is backed by 33 alderpersons, eight votes short of the 41 votes required to win council approval. It is opposed by the Chicago City Council’s Latino Caucus, which proposes a different map that would benefit the Latino population by creating 15 wards with a majority of Latino voters.

If City Council can’t approve a map by May 19, the decision will be determined by Chicago voters through a referendum on June 28.

Ervin said there is a high chance the new map will be voted on in a referendum, stressing the importance of letting West Side residents know they should vote for the map backed by the Black caucus.

“We have to let our people know what ultimately is in the best interest of our community, especially here on the West Side of Chicago,” Ervin said.

Also during last week’s meeting, Deborah Thurmond (formerly Deborah Williams), who serves as secretary of the Leaders Network, shared voter registration activities being organized for Austin residents.

Last month, a coalition of organizations and civic leaders, including Habilitative Systems Inc., Austin Coming Together, the Leaders Network and the NAACP Chicago West Side Branch, organized a March Madness voter’s registration drive that entailed several events on the West Side.

“A lot of young people have turned 18, and it’s time to get them registered to vote with this being an election year,” Thurmond said.

Voter registration activities included outreach, social media posting, events, meetings, workshops, dinners and voter registration pop-ups – all that invited Austin residents to register to vote in the June 28th primary as well as the Nov. 8th general election, or update their voter information.

The coalition also educated residents about the city’s ward redistricting process in preparation for residents who may end up deciding the city council’s new map. Another event on the ward remap will be held May 5th at Michele Clark High School.

“Civic engagement is so important. People will feel much better about themselves if they get involved in their community,” she said.