Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday September 24th, 2015, 2:52pm

Illinois Social Service Groups Demand Solution To Budget Stalemate: 'People Are Suffering'

Leaders from over two dozen Chicago-area social service groups say critical programs for Illinois children and families are being dismantled during the state budget impasse, and it is time for lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner to end the nearly three-month-old stalemate before more harm is done.

"We are all standing together to send Springfield a clear and unified message: Illinois' most vulnerable citizens can no longer be held hostage," Scott Humphrey, CEO of the multi-state child and family social service provider One United Hope, said at a Thursday morning press conference on Chicago's North Side.

"We are here as caregivers, and will not take sides in a political fight. People are suffering. We need Gov. Rauner, Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton to come together on a legally binding budget," he added.

The Republican governor and Democratic legislative leaders remain at odds over a state budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which began July 1. Though many state services and programs are being funded in part through court orders or with federal dollars, various others are being impacted because the state is not authorized to spend money on them without a budget in place. Many service providers have been, or will soon be, forced to reduce staff, cut services or close their doors due to the lack of a 2016 state budget.

"As we enter day 86 of this crisis, irreparable harm is being done to low-income children and families, people with disabilities and the elderly," Humprhey said at the event, held at One Hope United's Edgewater Early Learning Center, 5244 N. Lakewood Ave. "The budget impasse is systemically putting human service organizations out of business, denying Illinois citizens programs and services that are crucial to their health and well-being."

Among the 25 groups represented at today's event was Metropolitan Family Services, a Chicago-area family service provider that depends on the state for 40 percent of its budget and has had to tap into a line of credit during the impasse so core programs can continue operating.

Mental health care is one of the services provided by Metropolitan Family Services, which is greatly concerned over the lack of state funding being provided for psychiatric care grants. Because the funding is caught up in the budget battle, Metropolitan Family Services, which serves low-income and working families, has had to stop its intake of new unfunded mental health clients and limit the number of Medicaid clients it accepts.

Angela Love, a former Metropolitan Family Services mental health client, spoke to the importance of psychiatric care. She said she could not imagine what her life would be like now, had she been unable to access mental health care at the organization's Southeast Chicago Center, located at 3062 E. 91st St.

Love said she sought help for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from Metropolitan Family Services after several traumatic events in her life, including having her house broken into by burglars while she was home in 2008 and experiencing a miscarriage in 2010.

"Seeing my psychiatrist once a month, going to therapy twice a week, and attending my group sessions two to three times a week, that's what helped me," she said. "I learned about new tools. I learned about the triggers that made me sad. I used to cry, cry, cry. Now I don't cry anymore. I still feel violated in a way, but I'm able to deal with it. I don't feel like a victim; I feel like a survivor."

It is imperative, Love said, that the state restore funding for life-saving psychiatric care.

"My message to lawmakers is simple: We need psychiatrists. We need the mental health facilities in order to be able to help us," she said. "I wouldn't be a success story today if it wasn't for Metropolitan Family Services."

Rick Velasquez, executive director of Youth Outreach Services, discussed the budget stalemate's impacts on Comprehensive Community Based Youth Services (CCBYS), which help children and teens who have run away from or been kicked out of their homes.

CCBYS services "have begun to erode rapidly" across Illinois, he said, adding that they could soon stop altogether if the Springfield budget fight continues much longer.

He said an estimated 225 program employees could soon be out of work as CCBYS "providers across the state have exhausted their reserve funds and lines of credit to meet payroll."

If CCBYS programs shut down, there will be much negative fallout, including local police departments having to "stretch already limited resources to deal with youth and families in crisis, rather than addressing the serious crime in their community," Velasquez said. "And in Chicago, we can't afford that."

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