The State of Illinois has been operating without an approved budget for more than a week now, which means that the doomsday-like scenarios of layoffs, restricted services, no paychecks and empty bellies painted by many Democratic lawmakers should have materialized by now.
But if people are looking for a sudden onset apocalypse, they don’t quite understand the nature of the state’s funding crisis as several West Side nonprofit executives have explained it.
In an interview in late June, Bernard Clay, the executive director of Introspect Youth Services — an organization that offers college placement services — said that social service providers often have 30-day cash reserves to float along in the absence of government funding.
“[The absence of a state budget] is a concern for nonprofits right now,” he said. “Around July 15, it will become a headache because they’ll start feeling the pain.”
Clay said that when — or even before — those cash reserves run out, some agencies might have to close down temporarily and enact layoffs.
This week, according to media reports, the Illinois House will likely try again to authorize a $2.3 billion temporary budget that would be sufficient to fund core services for the rest of this month while Springfield slogs its way to a long-term budget. The House had tried passing a short-term budget last week, but the measure failed by four votes.
A temporary budget, however, won’t help much, Clay said. For one, it won’t fund all of the agencies that are in financial trouble. Secondly, it doesn’t rid social service agencies of what may be much more valuable than money — certainty.
“Even if they pass a temporary budget, they’ll keep going from crisis to crisis,” Clay said. “They need to pass a full budget so people will know what the rest of the year will be.”
Clay said although his organization doesn’t have a state contract, it will nonetheless be affected by the state’s fiscal shortfall.
“Some of our clients rely on transportation stipends and public aid money in order to get to us,” he said. “If the state stops paying out by the middle of July, a lot of people we serve won’t be able to get around.
“Look at the number of kids who have financial aid packages for college. Even though that money is forward-funded, if a final budget gets passed that has a shortfall, they’ll begin to cut students’ financial aid award letters by $100, $200, $300. To some families, that doesn’t make a difference, but to a low-income kid from a family on public assistance — where is that kid going to get that money? And for the kids who, for whatever reason, applied for financial aid late, they’re out of the ballgame altogether.”
LIHEAP is ‘dead’
Bob Vondrasek, the director of the South Austin Coalition Community Council (SACCC) — an organization that, among many other functions, helps administer the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to seniors and low-income individuals — said the critical program is “down until September.”
“We just got notification from CEDA [Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County] that … there’s no money [for LIHEAP] … CEDA’s not even functional as of today. That’s dead,” Vondrasek said during a June 30 interview.
According to a notice on CEDA’s website, funding for LIHEAP in Cook County “has been exhausted for the program year, which ends May 31, 2015, or until funding is exhausted.”
Residents in Cook County in needs of weatherization assistance can still apply to ComEd Residential Special Hardship, “and also recertify, when instructed, for the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP),” according to the website.
Vondrasek said he can only hope that this summer doesn’t get too hot or that the funding is restored by winter, when need for assistance is at its peak.
“It’s like a plane with bombs dropped everything,” he said, referring to the budget cuts. Vondrasek said SACCC’s doors will still be open for West Side seniors. He estimated that between 30 and 40 seniors come through the facility at 5071 W. Congress Parkway each month.
“We’re not closing down our place — we’re just operating without any legs or funds. We had a chunk of money that came in recently, but that’s the last money we’re going to get for a very long time. And that’s spread out over five employees. Other than that, we’re trying to get assistance from people we know, organizations, churches, etc. We’re pretty desperate, but we’re scrounging along. We’ve been here before. Not quite this bad, though.”
Vondrasek said that SACCC has met with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), along with more than 25 other social service organizations, to strategize ways of building a coalition among agencies, residents and other stakeholders who may be affected by the cuts. He said there’s precedence for this kind of action.
“Twenty-five to 30 years ago, we had a similar situation [of budget cuts] and we were able to put together a march to Springfield. Buses would come from all parts of the state to meet in Springfield and to protest across the state on parts of the budget that had been cut,” he said.
Similar grassroots mobilizing efforts have been brewing throughout the city. Rev. Reginald Bachus, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, 5200 W. Jackson Boulevard, said in late June that he fielded a call from Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition about an organizing effort that was to take place earlier this month.
“I’m going to do what I can to help put pressure on the governor to make sure he remembers our community when the budget is passed,” said Bachus, who added that the state’s budget crisis will affect many of his congregants.
“It’s impacted child car, persons who need utility assistance, senior services — all those needs across the board. I anticipate a lot of pain and suffering. Right when people in our community need a hand up, our governor decides to smash the bottom out.”
Vondrasek said those most affected by the state’s budget crisis have to get into fighting mode.
“It’s got to be an all-out fight and it’s got to be translated locally,” he said. “We’ve got to be prepared to have a coalition that covers all parts of the state.”