How to get that precious payment

Smart business owners know to pursue government contracts that will lead to regular, prompt payment. They also know what steps to take if that regular, prompt payment fails to materialize.

  • Work for Illinois agencies with their own pot of money. Not all state agencies are in financial trouble, says Freida Curry, director of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center at the Women's Business Development Center in Chicago. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority doesn't have a backlog of payments to vendors because it has a separate budget paid for by user fees and thus doesn't require state or federal support for operations or maintenance. The Illinois Capital Development Board, the state's construction management arm, also pays its vendors in a timely fashion since its budget comes from bonds, not the general revenue fund.

  • Use your certification contacts. Companies that have been certified as minority-, woman- or veteran-owned usually have the name and number of someone in the government's compliance department who is charged with ensuring the government fulfills its requirements to contract with such vendors. If the businesses have trouble getting paid, they should ask their contact to intervene, AMS Earth Movers President Julie Savitt says.

  • Apply for hardship status. If the state owes your business money, make sure the right people know. A spokesman for the Illinois Comptroller's Office says vendors who feel pinched should write a letter to the agency they supply; the agency then reviews the case to see if it qualifies for hardship status. (Each agency has its own criteria.) If a case qualifies, the agency notifies the comptroller's office and asks it to prioritize payments to that vendor.

If a business is in such dire straits that it's in danger of closing its doors, it should contact the comptroller's office directly, “and we will do everything we can to keep them afloat. But it's a balancing act, because you have to recognize that if you move somebody to the front of the line, somebody else is getting moved to the back of the line.”

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