Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended $26 million in critical public health grants and social services in the past month alone in what is the latest phase of Rauner’s overall plan of for the state. The governor says the cuts are necessary for Illinois to strengthen its fiscal discipline.
But the same austerity didn’t apply to the corporate tax breaks enacted during former governor Pat Quinn’s last budget.
Rauner told ABC news that he would consider tax increases if they were to arrive on his desk in the form of “structural changes,” which he views as the preferred method of doing business in Illinois.
“I’m open to considering everything,” the governor said. “The one thing that’s critical is that we change the structure of government. There has to be shared sacrifice.”
Critics of Gov. Rauner’s approach argue that his cuts — which include abrogating $3.1 million for the Tabacco Quitline, making Illinois the only state withouta lifeline for smokers — are not only draconian and cruel, but also incredibly short-sighted.
When Rauner cut state funding for autism on World Autism Day, some beneficiaries of the program, such as Vanessa Falling, the mother of a four-year-old autistic child, said the cuts ignored the program’s success in bringing a semblance of normalcy to those living with the disease as they reach adulthood.
“[The Illinois Autism Project] is there for all these kids,” Falling told The Progressive Midwesterner. “I can go there and cry to them. They will hold my hand and give me the support I need.”
Falling believes that Rauner is denying Illinoisans with autism the opportunity to live a normal life, because many will not be able to afford the necessary support and assistance in housing, social acclimation and education without the program.
Rauner’s cuts aren’t just aiming to dismantle programs designed to help individuals battling illness and addiction; he also targets programs serving as stopgaps to future criminal behavior.
For example, homicides and gun-related violence are up in the state, but Rauner is cutting preventative programs like state funded youth employment and after-school programs.
These preventative programs are being extricated from the budget as part of Rauner’s model of “shared sacrifice.”
One of the latest dominos to fall in the governors gutting of the social safety net is the defunding of funerals for the poor.
Illinois will no longer cover funeral expenses for the state’s most indigent residents through the Funeral & Benefits Program.
The latest cost-cutting measure by the new gubernatorial administration could force some financially strapped families to forego burials and cremate the remains of their loved ones instead.
The governor announced on April 3 that his administration will stop paying claims submitted after Jan. 15 in order to close a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
Illinois Department of Human Services spokeswoman Veronica Vera said in an interview with the Associated Press that the Funeral & Benefits Program served 8,649 poor people in the last fiscal year, paying out an estimated $9.6 million in reimbursements.
“We didn’t arrive at any of these decisions lightly,” Vera said.
“We needed to make tough choices to balance the budget, so we needed to determine what grants could be suspended to preserve core services.”
Due to the high demand for the benefits, the program probably covered only a meager portion of the total funeral costs of the recipients. However, the assistance was utilized by the hundreds of beneficiaries that applied for it.
It is possible that these changes may discourage funeral homes from taking poorer clients in the future because of concerns over exorbitant costs they may be facing as a result.
The program dispersed up to $1,103 toward funerals and $552 for cremations.
Now, with the program coming to an end, eligible individuals have a year to submit claims for funeral and burial costs incurred from October 2014 to mid-January 2015.
“We heard about the cuts from a letter distributed by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association,” said Mary Smith, owner of Smith & Thomas Funeral Home, 5708 W. Madison St.
“I was truly saddened when I heard the news,” she said. “What made it even worst was the fact that we were informed that we would not be reimbursed for any of our funeral costs that were incurred after January 15. We are trying to decide what we are going to do next.”
Smith & Thomas has been located in the Austin community since 1984. The funeral parlor handles approximately 75 funerals a year for indigent clients. With the average cost of handling a funeral being between $8,000 and $10,000, the parlor is going to need to make adjustments to cater to their more penurious clientele going forward.
The Illinois Funeral & Burial Benefits Program cost the state $9.5 million in the 2014 fiscal year.
The program was designed to aid with the funeral expenses of persons filling specific economic criteria at the time of death.
Generally, they were required to either be receiving some form of assistance, such as cash from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or to have qualified for a benefit.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost is $7,045. The discontinuation of the program will force cash-strapped Illinoisans to cover more of the funeral expenses themselves.
In the following weeks, Rauner is expected to announce even more cuts and measures to close the budget deficit.
“We have a moral duty to have an efficient government,” Gov. Rauner told the Chicago Tribune. “The tax money belongs to the taxpayers. It doesn’t belong to the bureaucracy. Government is not a welfare system.”