BissHumanServicesThe following guest column by Sen. Daniel Biss was published in The (Springfield) State Journal-Register on Jan. 14, 2016.

A new year can be a time for hope and celebration, but that’s not the case this year for providers of vital human services in Illinois.

Cut to the bone and relying on prayers and lines of credit to keep the doors open, they rang in 2016 by bracing for more fallout from the state budget impasse and a single-minded governor content to watch Illinois’ critical social safety net unravel in service of the pursuit of a radical, unrelated agenda.

These services – by and large directed to women, children and the elderly – are among the programs receiving no funding from the State of Illinois because of the lack of a budget, putting the providers’ objectives and their futures in peril.

Included is support for public health departments, as well for programs for the homeless, sexual assault victims, autistic children, those in need of mental health and addiction-treatment services, at-risk teenagers and more.

After a series of cuts to programs and services last year, things have grown worse for the state’s remaining providers. More people in need of help are being turned away. Staff vacancies go unfilled as waiting lists grow. Agencies are dipping into reserves and borrowing money to stay afloat. For example:

  • People in southern and central Illinois are coping with the aftermath of historic winter flooding, yet public health departments – which can be instrumental in safety and sanitation efforts – find themselves doing their jobs with far fewer resources because of the budget impasse.
  • The Ford County Public Health Department in central Illinois – established just 18 months ago – is looking at options for cutting expenses, including mandatory furloughs, staff reductions and possibly closing its doors as soon as late February.
  • A DuPage County program that offers hot meal delivery for senior citizens hasn’t received state funding since July. Organizers are planning to reduce the program this month.
  • In southwestern Illinois, an agency that provides seniors with hot meals, transportation to medical appointments and legal assistance is poised to cut services Feb. 1, affecting up to 900 people in seven counties.
  • Nearly one-third of Illinois’ United Way programs have just enough cash reserves to see them through one month or less. One-quarter of them established lines of credit to see them through the budget impasse, and nearly one-quarter cut the number of clients they serve by 10 to 20 percent. About 15 percent of them have closed programs.

Why is Gov. Bruce Rauner forcing these essential providers to plead for the money they were promised and shake out the couch cushions in hope of finding enough to stay open one more week? Some of them are hiring lawyers rather than saving clients. What does this say about the governor’s priorities?

It tells us that he's incapable of being a leader, persuading the General Assembly and the people of Illinois of the wisdom of his so-called reform ideas. Instead, he's using vulnerable people as hostages – crossing his fingers and gambling on people’s lives.

Even though Gov. Rauner vetoed spending proposals presented by the General Assembly last year, he has yet to propose a plan of his own or reveal how he thinks Illinois should find money for these now-compromised human services, as well as for colleges and low-income students who also find themselves begging for help from back of the line.

Illinois’ human service providers have done whatever they can to continue helping the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. But the day will come – sooner than later – when there will be nothing more they can do.
These organizations need money immediately. I urge the governor put aside his personal agenda and work with the legislature to make it happen.

Sen. Daniel Biss is a Democrat from Evanston. He is chairman of the Illinois Senate Human Services Committee.

Category: News

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