Chicago Northwest Side residents attended a town hall meeting Wednesday night to speak out against budget cuts and the "poverty wages" impacting their communities.
Those at the town hall, hosted by Communities United, formerly the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, called for progressive revenue options to tackle the city and state's fiscal issues and highlighted their support for a $15 hourly minimum wage in Chicago.
"Because of budget cuts, essential programs are being cut for our young people and community, and students are being denied educational programs," said Communities United leader Manolita Huber. "And because of poverty wages, low-wage workers can't even afford to pay the rent, let alone put food on the table."
Chicago's hourly minimum wage went up to $10 in July and will gradually rise to $13 by 2019 under a 2014 city ordinance. Town hall attendees, however, described the city increase as "too little, too late."
Regarding state budget cuts, youth employment programs on Chicago's Northwest Side have been hit particularly hard, residents said.
This summer marks the first time in four years that the Albany Park community did not receive state funding to run a youth summer job and mentorship program, Huber said. Last year, nearly 80 young people participated in the program, she said.
"Due to Gov. [Bruce] Rauner's budget cuts, the program no longer exists," Huber stressed. "If these programs had been available, we might have been able to help prevent one of the most violent summers in Albany Park in recent history."
Another youth employment and mentorship program that has been impacted by the state budget situation is Bikes N' Roses, a youth-led bicycle repair shop in Albany Park. The governor froze the shop's state grant funding a few months ago.
Roshi Bates, a former Bikes N' Roses worker, said cutting a program that helps many young people does not make sense.
"It's not hard to understand that investing in youth now will save the country money in the future," Bates said. "I would think that someone as business savvy as Gov. Rauner could wrap his head around that. But I was wrong."
Concerns were also raised over the governor's proposal to slash funding for kidney transplants and dialysis services for undocumented immigrants.
"How inhumane is the governor to even think about making those cuts," asked Communities United Board President Diane Limas.
Albany Park resident Crescenecia Delgado said she's worried about city-level spending cuts hitting neighborhood public schools. She is a Local School Council member at Alessandro Volta Elementary School, which is set to lose $300,000 in the coming school year.
Delgado, whose special needs child attends Volta, 4950 N. Avers Ave., said her son's programs could be impacted because of the budget cuts.
"Special needs programs are the first resources to go, and they are the most vulnerable students," she said.
Delgado said city and state officials should implement progressive revenue options to restore funding for education and other vital programs.
"Those that have the most money should pay their fair share," Delgado stressed.
Communities United saw support at its town hall from state Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago) and Chicago Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), both of whom pledged to support progressive city and state revenue solutions as well as the Fight for $15 campaign.
"I will be there fighting with you," Mell told the crowd.