SPRINGFIELD — Judy Topinka is tired of signing paper checks for a $1.50 or less.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Judy Topinka is tired of signing paper checks for a $1.50 or less.

The Illinois comptroller said she is sick of paying 40 cents for postage to send a check for $1.50, and described the idea of sending paper checks for small amounts as “stupid.”

“In this day and age, why are we getting all of these checks for often times less than a dollar?” Topinka asked Monday at a statehouse news conference. “This is just stupid. This is government being stupid and wasting money.”

And Topinka is determined to stop this practice. On Monday, she zipped across the state to tout legislation that would allow her to incentive direct deposit for state vendors. Under the plan, any individual or business receiving more than 30 checks a year will be required to enroll in direct deposit. If not, Topinka said, the state will charge a $2.50 per-check fee.

“I’m sure there are some that are quite wedded to paper checks, but it’s going to cost them,” Topinka said.

The Comptroller’s Office also would stop sending checks for amounts less than $5, unless a business requests a paper check. The business would not be charged the $2.50 fee for checks smaller than $5, but they would on any amount over the limit.

Topinka estimated that the changes will save $1 million a year in paper and postage costs.

State Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, who sponsored the legislation, said that when Illinois is billions of dollars behind in payments to people who do business with the state, mailing out checks for a dollar or less is embarrassing.

“Someone will say they got one of those checks for 50 cents, and it becomes a joke,” said Poe. “What a waste of taxpayer money.”

Topinka said most state employees and many state vendors are enrolled in a direct deposit program.

Carlissa Puckett, chief executive officer of Springfield Arc Inc., which supports children, adults and seniors with developmental disabilities, has participated in the the state’s direct deposit program for years.

“We check the comptroller’s website every day for money that will be coming our way,” said Puckett. “And within a day or two, the money is in our account. It’s great.”

Puckett said she couldn’t think of any reason why other companies or nonprofits wouldn’t want to enroll in the direct deposit program.

“I’d rather have the state pay quickly, no matter how the money comes, than have to wait six or seven months for a payment,” said Puckett.

And as for the end of $1.50 checks, Puckett said she has not received check for a low amount in a while. She adds that the state has been “catching up” on Medicaid payments, so the checks have been in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.

Illinois’ backlog of bills is in the $4 billion range. Medicaid providers are being told they’ll have to wait up to 162 days for payments this year. Topinka said the direct deposit legislation would not address the late payments.

However, she said she will continue to cut paper checks for lawmakers’ $111 a day per diem and 39 cent per mile reimbursement.

“They would prefer to have paper checks, because they’re actually here,” said Topinka. “They need to pay certain monies out here, and they need to get it quicker.”

The legislation for direct deposit passed the state House 114-2; it sailed through the state Senate 56-0. Topinka said she expects Gov. Pat Quinn to sign the bill into law.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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