Equal Voice

Illinois Advocates to Leaders: Stop the Damage, Pass a Budget

June 24, 2016

Paul Nyhan
By Paul Nyhan
Manager of Storytelling

Illinois will hit an unwanted milestone on July 1 when it will mark one year without a state budget, a standoff that is threatening networks of support for families and already hitting programs for homeless youth, seniors and students.

The standoff is sending shockwaves through social service agencies and nonprofits around the state, which is home to nearly 13 million people and the country’s third-largest city. Residents are increasingly holding more rallies demanding elected representatives pass a spending plan, and dozens of social service agencies are suing Gov. Bruce Rauner for $100 million for a lack of state payments.

Fewer meals are reaching older Americans, programs that stem violence are shrinking, and services for the homeless are being cut, as state legislators and Rauner struggle to craft a budget. There is even concern that public schools could struggle to open this fall, advocates say.

police escort protestor

A police officer escorts a protester during a “Moral Monday” rally in Chicago. State residents are increasingly demanding that state leaders pass a budget, as the sting is being felt by the poor, young people and the elderly. Photo courtesy of Fair Economy Illinois

Seniors are being hit particularly hard. In some regions, meal deliveries have been cut to two days a week, the Illinois Aging Network reported, while transportation to doctor’s offices, grocery stores and senior centers were also reduced. Home care for seniors has also been cut.

In Chicago, ONE Northside had to release CeaseFire outreach workers, even though they were working to stem violence in communities by helping people most at risk of being involved in shootings, the group’s executive director, Jennifer Ritter, said.

This is only a glimpse into the erosion of services and support. If the standoff continues, for example, some funding for K-12 education, energy assistance, and screenings for breast and cervical cancer will end after June 30, according to the Responsible Budget Coalition.

Overall, the lack of a state budget is threatening the state’s non-profit infrastructure, and working and poor families it supports, as organizations lay off staff and cut back services, advocates said. At least a few social service groups have shut down programming, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH).

“I think we all go to bed at night worrying about what is happening in this state,” says Lori Clark, executive director of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, which is affiliated with People’s Action Institute, which until recently was known as National People’s Action. “I really worry about an entire infrastructure being destroyed.”

no state budget

With no state budget in sight, social service agencies in Illinois have cut staff and reduced programs. That includes cuts to CeaseFire, a violence prevention program. Photo courtesy of Fair Economy Illinois

The toll is mounting. In January, one of the largest statewide agencies, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, announced it would have to eliminate 43 percent of its employees – 750 positions – and close 30 programs.

That translates into cuts in programs for alcohol and drug treatment, re-entry services for formerly incarcerated people and their families, counseling and seniors.

Legislative action or inaction can take months or years to have an impact, but this budget battle is already hitting families.

Other cutbacks, according to a Responsible Budget Coalition report released in May, include:

  • Lutheran Social Services closed seven home care and adult day care centers.
  • In Northern Illinois, Rockford Renewing Lives could not help 100 women and children who were trying to escape domestic violence.
  • The vast majority (90 percent) of homeless service organizations either have or will have to cut back services.

Perhaps nowhere is the pain of the state’s political standoff clearest than in support for the homeless.

When homeless youth go to drop-in centers, where they can talk with a social worker, eat a hot meal, do laundry and get help enrolling in high school or college, they now find some of those doors closed, according to CCH. Around the city and state, some shelters that help high-risk youth struggling with mental illness, addiction or other challenges, are cutting staff or barely hanging on, the organization added.

Bruce Rauner

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaks to reporters outside his office on May 31 at the state Capitol in Springfield, Ill. AP Photo by Seth Perlman

“What do we expect those kids to do at that point? said Niya Kelly, a CCH policy specialist. “Waiting another day is not something they can do.”

The budget stalemate also is damaging the broader economy, as nonprofits and social service agencies shed jobs and reduce spending, advocates say. The loss of these positions is hitting women particularly hard, since women hold nearly seven out of 10 jobs in the state’s nonprofit sector, according to the report released by the Responsible Budge Coalition.

“This budget crisis is hitting people who are the most vulnerable, who are poor and struggling through to the middle class,” said Kristi Sanford, communications director for IIRON, a Chicago-based grassroots organization that works on community organizing and is affiliated with the People’s Action Institute.

There is some hope for relief. The state Legislature sent Rauner legislation that would fund a lot of social service work, though he has not signed the measure. Some observers say Rauner’s support of pro-business legislation and his call to curb the power of unions in the state are contributing to the year-long impasse. Since at least last year, Illinois grassroots advocates have called on the governor to find new sources of money to support residents, services and programs.

Even if policymakers agree on a new budget, it will not immediately repair and restore the social services network.

“But in just eight short months, the work that these nonprofits took decades to establish is being decimated,” Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, Leslie Ramyk, executive director of Conant Family Foundation, and Grace Hou, president of Woods Fund Chicago wrote in an article on the Trust’s website earlier this month. “The longer we wait, the harder it will be to repair the damage.”

As a mother and housing coordinator at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter in Chicago, Crystal Sahler has seen firsthand how the lack of a state budget is affecting families.

“I don’t care who is to blame, just sit down and get it done,” Sahler, who supports affordable housing, said.


Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News. He has worked as a journalist at Bloomberg News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Congressional Quarterly. He has covered social policy for more than 20 years. About the top image: Illinois residents and grassroots organizations have been holding “Moral Monday” rallies in recent weeks to let the governor and lawmakers know that they want a responsible state budget. Photo courtesy of Fair Economy Illinois.

2016 © Equal Voice for America’s Families Newspaper


Illinois Advocates to Leaders: Stop the Damage, Pass a Budget