Nikki Budzinski discusses first 100 days in conversation with the DI

On her final stop in a press tour marking her first 100 days in office, Rep. Nikki Budzinski (IL-13) made her way to the very north end of the 13th district to chat with the Daily Illini at the University YMCA.  

In the interview, Budzinski looked back upon the highlights of her term and forward to the future of Illinois, discussing issues such as the transition to green and renewable energy, reproductive rights, unemployment rates and healthcare access in rural areas, as well as the upcoming Farm Bill.

Budzinski, a Peoria native and University alumna, represents a freshly redrawn district that spans from St. Louis to Champaign-Urbana.

Although the 13th district is home to parts of Champaign county and other somewhat urban communities, it is mostly rural. The district contributes significantly to Illinois’ agricultural economy, especially in regards to corn and soybean production. 

Throughout the interview, Budzinski reiterated her commitment to the needs of her rural constituency, speaking about several efforts over the past 100 days to represent and support this group.



As a Democrat representing a politically diverse district, Budzinski said that bipartisan collaboration and working relationships across the aisle have been some of her greatest assets in the beginning of her tenure.

“You can’t just say you’re bipartisan and expect that those relationships are just going to happen,” Budzinski said. “When I was in my new member orientation, I made it a point to meet with everyone — all members that surround this district.”

The 13th district, bookended by Champaign at the north and St. Louis at the south, is the only district south of Springfield represented by a Democrat. 

Budzinski emphasized the importance of building connections with Republican members of Congress who represent parts of the state that straddle her district, including Rep. Mary Miller and Rep. Mike Bost. 

Budzinski shares six counties, including parts of Champaign county, with Miller and one county with Bost. 

Budzinski described working together with Miller and Bost on various issues, emphasizing the importance of collaboration across the aisle on bipartisan issues like Agriculture and Veterans Affairs. 

“On the House Agriculture Committee, Mary Miller and I agree on crop insurance … and Mike Bost is actually the chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, which I serve on,” Budzinski said. “I think it’s honestly (approaching) different issues, meeting people where they are, listening, recognizing that we don’t have to agree on everything, but (agreeing) to find the places where we can work together.” 


Farming/Rural issues

Budzinski discussed the upcoming Farm Bill, an omnibus bill passed every five years. This bill is intended to promote policies that address issues faced by the agricultural sector. 

Budzinski said she was excited to serve on the House Committee on Agriculture this year in particular because of the opportunity to negotiate “really important issues,” that could be included in the bill’s upcoming iteration. 

One issue is that of food deserts, or areas with limited access to affordable nutrient-dense food

Although food deserts in metropolitan areas are more commonly discussed in the media, Budzinski’s work in Congress primarily deals with those facing food insecurity in rural areas.

“There’s a lot of food insecurity in this country, where people do not have access to healthy food options,” Budzinski said. “I would highlight one community that’s more on the St. Louis side of this district called Cahokia Heights. They just got news that this month their Walmart is going to close.” 

Budzinski told the DI that upon hearing about the planned closure, she contacted Walmart executives and explained that people in the town would suffer disproportionately from the decision.

“When I asked Walmart, ‘Well, what does that mean for the people in that community?’ they said, ‘We have five (locations) within a 15 mile radius.’”

Budzinski stressed that Walmart’s decision to close the Cahokia Heights location would worsen issues far more dire than grocery store commute times.

“If you don’t have access to transportation, the store might as well be on the other side of the world,” Budzinski said. “So what are we doing to incentivize more local food production that are healthy options for people? I think this is something I’d love to be helping lead on in the Farm Bill.”

Walmart has closed and is closing a raft of locations in Illinois in 2023, including four in Chicago

When asked about her efforts to support small farmers in the latest Farm Bill, Budzinski touted her creation of an Agriculture Advisory Council at Lincoln Land Community College that brings together a “diverse set of voices,” including small family farmers. 

Budzinski said that another instance where she has made an effort to include varying perspectives in agricultural policy development has been in her work with the Illinois Farm Bureau and the University’s agricultural faculty. 

“I often talk about how from Decatur to UIUC, we are the Ag. tech corridor of the country,” Budzinski said, before adding that the University is doing “fascinating” research around agriculture and energy development. The congresswoman recalled meeting with entrepreneurs and “innovators” at Research Park a week prior who’ve been doing work related to precision agriculture and “how agriculture is changing.”

In addition to her position on the House committee, Budzinski sits on the Conservation, Research, and Biotechnology subcommittee, where she says she is able to apply the knowledge and perspectives provided to her by the advisory council.

Budzinski said she wanted to see biofuels like ethanol, which is made from corn, Illinois’ premier crop, as a “key part” of the Farm Bill.

Budzinski spoke of the Next Generation Fuels Act, a bill she introduced with Republican colleagues that aims to promote renewable low-carbon, high-octane fuels. 

“What that bill does is … as we are transitioning to EVs, … more ethanol gets mixed in with our gasoline, or our fuel,” Budzinski said. 

She described this bill as having a potential threefold impact — a reduction in carbon footprint, economic stimulus for local corn farmers and a decrease in fuel costs for consumers. 

“I liken that to a win-win-win,” Budzinski said.

Budzinski said crop insurance, a policy that financially insures farmers from potential losses due to natural disasters, is something that she hopes to see included in the bill. The congresswoman said that policies like this could act as a safety net for family farmers, who she said deal with a lot of “instability” — including tornadoes, flooding and weather events exacerbated by climate change that can damage crops. 

When asked about difficulties in representing family and small farmers when much of the agricultural industry is dominated by large entities that can wield considerable influence, Budzinski reiterated the need to “look after our small family farmers,” and again mentioned the importance of crop insurance.  



In Congress, Budzinski has emphasized her personal investment in union interests and labor issues, having been described in campaign materials and on the US House website as a “Trade Unionist and proud member of the labor movement.”

Among her proudest accomplishments on the labor front, Budzinski cited the LEAP act, which proposes a scholarship program for trade schools across the district, along with tax credits for any small business that employs a graduate of the program.

“Whereas all of us took the four year college career route, that’s not necessarily the route for everybody, and that’s okay,” Budzinski said. “There’s a lot of dignity in the (trades). I think it’s a meaningful thing to try to get to the issues around workforce development.”

In early March, Budzinski drafted a letter to Akorn Pharmaceuticals, a generic pharmaceuticals manufacturer that is now defunct, criticizing the company for closing down a Decatur plant without giving advance notice to officials and leaving around 400 people unemployed. Budzinski said the closure was in violation of the WARN act, which requires many employers to provide notice of closures or layoffs to employees. 

“These workers and their families, including single mothers with small children, were left with no time to prepare for their next steps,” Budzinski wrote in the letter. “Akorn knew for over a year that it was operating at a loss and that bankruptcy was a possibility, yet it did not have an appropriate and reasonable plan in place to let go of its employees with the crucial resources they needed.”

Budzinski spoke about the events that led to the letter’s writing, calling it a “sad situation.” 

“You can’t imagine the sense of betrayal you’d have after dedicating your career to working for a company that thought so little of that, that they actually, in the middle of the night, just left (the workers), without any severance, no health insurance,” she said. 

Despite this, the congresswoman said she saw the best of the city of Decatur in a dark moment as they rallied around the affected workers, including a workforce development program in the city that signed workers up for benefits including health insurance and helped them with job placement. 

“Luckily, in this moment, there were like 2000 job openings in Decatur,” Budzinski said. “Other employers like ADM actually intentionally went and sought out these workers to see if they would like employment, because there were so many openings … but what I did in reaction to what happened was to send a letter to Akorn demanding more information about why they made that decision, why they treated the workers that way.”

She said there are state laws that prohibit companies from acting like Akorn did, as well as federal laws that she said she is looking into. 

“If we don’t crack down on that now, other companies are going to get the message that that’s okay behavior and we can’t allow working people to be left out to dry like that,” Budzinski said. “So we’re looking at the WARN Act to see if there is anything that we can be doing at the federal level.”



Budzinski serves on the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, where she serves as co-chair of the Climate Jobs Task Force along with Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and California Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, according to the House website.

Budzinski said that Illinois’ 13th district is among those leading the charge towards broader renewable energy use and the green transition in Illinois. The district’s assets in this effort, according to Budzinski, include its corn production and the University’s nuclear energy initiatives.

“The University of Illinois is leading in some of this really cool clean energy transition work,” Budzinski said. “We have some of the biggest nuclear fleets in the country, and we are going to be able to hit our 2050 goal because of that nuclear fleet.”

The congresswoman identified the state’s greatest challenge to be harnessing affordable and accessible power during the transition to clean energy, explaining that the University’s research into renewable power sources like hydrogen and solar could result in a solution. 

“I’d love to attract as much clean energy business as we can to this area, so we can create more baseload power,” Budzinski said. “When it is a beautiful sunny day like today, for example, and solar is overgenerating the amount of energy we need at this moment, we (need to) capture that and store it so we can use it during the night.”

If implemented, Budzinski says ideas like this one combined with expertise from leading scientists at the University are going to ensure Illinois’ success in achieving its climate-related aspirations for the future.

“The state of Illinois has set some very ambitious clean energy goals — by 2050, we (hope to) get to zero carbon emissions,” Budzinski said. “But in order to do that, I would say we need to make (the green) transition and be very intentional about it.”


Healthcare access

When asked about her proudest accomplishments in office, Budzinski primarily cited her work towards healthcare access in rural communities, explaining that some of her most productive bipartisan efforts have surrounded this issue.

“This doesn’t have to be a Democratic or Republican issue — everybody needs access to health care,” Budzinski said. “And in rural communities, we face particular challenges with attracting health care specialists.”

Budzinski said that the effort to bring more qualified mental health professionals, among other healthcare providers, to rural Illinois has become a personal passion in the last 100 days.

“We have to make sure that in rural America, folks have access to mental health providers and substance abuse treatment,” Budzinski said.

The congresswoman said her work across the political aisle has helped to jumpstart an initiative, known as the Rural America Health Corps Act, that has given local medical school graduates the opportunity to give back to their communities while relieving student loan debt. 

Along with Budzinski, the bill’s co-sponsors are David Kustoff and Diana Harshbarger, both Republican representatives from Tennessee.

“If you have gotten your training at Carle Hospital, if you have gone to medical school at SIU in Springfield, if you stay in the community for five years and practice medicine, we will help relieve some of your student debt,” Budzinski said. “That’s a way to incentivize the medical community not to leave, but to stay and to help serve (rural areas) and fill some of the vacuum that we’re missing.”


Reproductive rights

Budzinski, a former Planned Parenthood intern and current member of the Pro-Choice Caucus and Equality Caucus in the House, spoke about her work in District 13 relating to reproductive healthcare access. 

As a blue state amid a sea of mostly red, Illinois is one of the few Midwestern states to pass laws protecting abortion access, in stark contrast to places like Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio that have enacted legislation restricting or heavily restricting abortion access or, in some cases, banning abortion altogether.

When asked about the role she believes Illinois should play in supplementing the needs of those who live in states where abortion is banned, including many surrounding states, Budzinski explained that she hopes the state is able to adapt to the influx of those coming from across state lines seeking reproductive care.

“I’m really proud that Illinois is a safe haven state,” Budzinski said. “When I was at the University of Illinois … I started an organization at the time called Students for Choice and I was an intern at Planned Parenthood. I have always been very active to make sure that everyone has access to the full suite of health care needs that they deserve as human beings.”


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April 19, 2023 at 03:56PM

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