PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday January 26th, 2016, 3:12pm

Illinois Social Service Advocates Speak Out Ahead Of Gov. Rauner's State Of The State Address

Ahead of Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State address, members of the Responsible Budget Coalition drew attention to the negative impacts of the ongoing Illinois budget impasse. 

Ahead of Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State address on Wednesday, Illinois social service advocates highlighted the negative effects of the nearly seven-month-old budget impasse.

Speaking Tuesday morning at the Thompson Center, members of the Responsible Budget Coalition said the state's social service system is "collapsing" as Illinois continues to operate without a budget. They cited youth programs, meals for seniors, epilepsy services and college assistance for low-income students as just some of the casualties of the budget stalemate.

"We don't know what the governor's going say tomorrow in terms of what he thinks the state of the state is, but I can tell you that from where we are, Illinois is weak and getting weaker," said Emily Miller with Voices for Illinois Children, a Responsible Budget Coalition member. "Every day the governor refuses to make the budget a No. 1 priority we get even more weak."

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders have yet to agree on a spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which began July 1. Rauner wants Democrats to support items on his pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" as part of the budgeting process. The governor has said he would be willing to support a tax hike if Democrats back his policy agenda.

On Monday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said Democrats are open to changes to collective bargaining and workers' compensation, just not the "radical changes" proposed by the governor.

Social service advocates said the main focus in Springfield should be on the budget.

"Governor Rauner and leaders of the General Assembly need to make the budget their top priority, and they need to enact a fully funded budget to avoid destroying the public services and saddling future generations with billions of dollars more in debt," Miller said.

The governor's office provided a statement in response to the coalition's press conference.

"The Responsible Budget Coalition should know the first step in having a responsible budget is having a truly balanced budget," said Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly. "Governor Rauner stands ready to pass structural reforms and a balanced budget that will help fund social service programs and jumpstart our economy."

The budget stalemate, meanwhile, is taking a toll on a range of organizations. 

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, the state's largest social service provider, announced Friday that it is cutting 30 programs and 750 staffers. The state owes Lutheran Social Services $6 million.

Crisis intervention services aimed at helping runaways and at-risk youth in Chicago's Englewood and West Englewood communities are also expected to be suspended on February 15 due to the state budget impasse.

Children's Home + Aid provides the services as part of the state's Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS) program, which serves nearly 7,000 youth statewide and has gone unfunded since July 1.

"The inability of our elected leaders to do their constitutionally mandated jobs and pass a budget is leading to systemic collapse of the safety net that we all rely on to keep kids and communities safe," stressed Andrea Durbin, CEO of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth.

Durbin said more CCBYS programs across the state could be suspended in February or March, adding that many have already reduced staff, hours and non-crisis programming.

"CCBYS is keeping out of (the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services system) each year more teenagers than DCFS is serving today," she said. "We could double the population of teenagers in the child welfare system" if more CCBYS services are suspended. 

Such a situation, Durbin added, would cost the state more in the long-run.

"A residential treatment program for DCFS is over $100,000 a year," she explained. "These community programs [are] less than $2,000 per year per kid."

The budget impasse also forced the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago to cancel its Teen Reach programming as of last summer at three of its Chicago centers. One of the centers is the Rauner Family YMCA in Little Village. Rauner and his wife donated funds to build the facility, which opened in 2006.

The three YMCA centers were previously offering Teen Reach programming five days a week. They now offer alternative teen programming two days a week. The youth services are less robust than what Teen Reach provided, said Ladawn Norwood with the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

"Our communities desperately need programs like Teen Reach to keep at-risk youth off the streets and out of harm's way," Norwood said. "Programs like Teen Reach literally (save) lives."

Christian Washington, 16, spoke to the importance of Teen Reach programs. Washington, now a North Lawndale College Prep freshman, said youth services at Kelly Hall YMCA in West Humboldt Park helped keep him off the streets and out of trouble.

"I had a safe place to go every day after school" and "lots of great role models to help me with my homework and school," he said.

Before participating in the YMCA's programs, Washington said he never considered going to college. He is now college bound and says he has at least four universities on his list of potential options after high school. 

He said the reduction in teen programming at the YMCA is concerning.

"These streets are so bad and there are really no positive places for us to hang out and be safe like at the Y," Washington said. "A lot of us don't have Internet access at home to do our school homework and things like that. Now, we can no longer go to the YMCA five days a week. Life is hard for us. Please bring back Teen Reach and help save more kids like me."


"Every day the governor refuses to make the budget a No. 1 priority we get even more weak." said Emily Miller.

Why blame the governor?  It's the House and Senate that refuse to pass a BALANCED budget.  Their previous budget proposal was to spend far in exces of income.  The governor wisely vetoed that proposal.

The state needs to pass a BALANCED budget and stop spending more than the income of the state.



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