SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A first wave of checks have been sent to Illinois workers to cover back pay owed since 2011.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza said more than 900 checks were issued to Department of Public Health workers. The department is the first state agency to issue vouchers to the comptroller's office. Eventually about 24,000 state workers will get back pay.
Blake Hiland of Plainville is owed about $3,700. He spent 21 and a half years working for the Department of Corrections and retired Jan. 1.
"They told us we should get paid about Sept. 1. I know one guy who has $20,000 coming for back pay and step increases," Hiland said.
Former Gov. Pat Quinn said in 2011 that the state couldn't pay a 2 percent raise to the workers because lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money.
About 24,000 state workers are owed pay dating back to that year and some, like Hiland, have since retired.
In order to fix the problem, lawmakers passed HB 4290 this year. State Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, was among those who supported the back pay.
"That decision was made before I was in the Illinois House. When something like that happens, you inherit it, even if you weren't part of what happened. The state needs to pay its obligations," Frese said.
State lawmakers included $63 million in the current Illinois budget to take care of the back wages, which they described as the state's oldest outstanding bill. Lawmakers from both parties supported releasing the money.
Gov. Bruce Rauner's office said some agencies are working through "technical issues" to get the back pay out.
"Our intention is to have all the issues resolved and have all the vouchers delivered for payment next month," said Patty Schuh, Rauner spokeswoman. "We are working to get employees the money they are due as quickly as possible."
Other agencies that will be issuing back pay are the Juvenile Justice, Human Services and the Natural Resources departments, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
State officials declined to identify recipients of the delayed paychecks, citing privacy issues.
Hiland said it's good that the state is finally paying what it owes. He said the frozen pay caused "a lot of strife" at the time and was allowed to stay on the books for too long.
When asked what he'll do with the money, Hiland didn't hesitate. "I'll stimulate the economy. When you get a lump sum there are things you're going to do with it," he said.