This is the first in an ongoing series analyzing how the state’s nearly year-long budget crisis has affected West Side residents.
If you call F.A.I.T.H., Inc., you’ll hear the voice of Parmelia “DeDe” Tyler, 61, notifying you that “this office is temporarily closed until the state budget is signed.”
“There are still guys coming by, even though we had to put a sign on the door saying that we’re temporarily closed,” Tyler, a case manager with the Austin-based organization, said.
“I know that they’re coming,” she said, “because I get other agencies calling me and telling me, ‘We had some guys that needed your help, so they came to us.'”
A few days before Tyler’s interview for this story, a coalition of 64 social service providers called Pay Now Illinois filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rauner. They’re seeking more than $100 million in money they claim the state owes them for contract work dating back to last July.
The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims that the Republican governor’s June 25, 2015 veto of 27 funding bills passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in May constituted “unlawful impairment, or interference, with the agencies’ constitutional right to a legal remedy for the non-payment of these contracts,” according to a May 4 statement released by Pay Now.
Three of those bills earmarked funds for human services and included most of the contractual services mentioned in the lawsuit, the coalition notes.
F.A.I.T.H., Inc., (or For Action In Togetherness Holdfast), a small community organization that has been helping ex-offenders on Chicago’s West Side obtain state ID cards since the early 1990s, wasn’t among them — even though its small staff may be feeling the pain of the state’s budget crisis more acutely than those of much larger organizations.
‘I feel the crunch’
Last November, F.A.I.T.H.’s founder, Rev. John H. Crawford, 77, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was fighting to keep the lights on at the organization’s Chicago Avenue office, even though the number of ex-offenders who need state ID cards continues to grow.
“We’re basically working as volunteers,” Crawford told the Sun-Times back then.
Seven months later, Tyler, Crawford and his wife Patty, 57, say they’ve had to fight to keep the lights on where they live.
“It’s been 11 months since we’ve gotten any money,” said Tyler, who along with Rev. Crawford rounds out the full-time staff at F.A.I.T.H.
“I feel the crunch,” said Patty Crawford. “It’s a doggone shame. Can you imagine not having a paycheck for a whole year? You’re talking a whole year without funding.”
“Fortunately, I’ve had help or I would’ve had to give up my apartment,” said Tyler, before Patty Crawford noted that she and her husband have had similar support.
F.A.I.T.H. relies on funding from the Illinois Department of Corrections, but since July 1, 2015 — the deadline for the state to have approved a budget for this fiscal year — that money has been held up in the standoff between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
According to a Sun-Times analysis, in the state’s 2014 budget, the Illinois corrections and human services department “spent about $69 million on services to aid people getting out of prison.” The next budget year, those departments spent $67 million. Since July, just $418,000 has been spent by those two departments on ex-offenders.
And that’s despite the increase in people returning from prisons in the state. The Sun-Times interviewed Crawford for an article entitled, “Boom in parolees hits Chicago,” which noted that the number of parolees in Illinois has increased by 14 percent in the last four years — to more than 28,000, according to IDOC data.
Those returning ex-offenders have typically concentrated in just six community areas on the West and South Sides, according to a 2003 report on Chicago recidivism published by the liberal-leaning Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank.
In 2001, Austin, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Englewood, West Englewood, and East Garfield Park received more than a third of recent prisoners returning to Chicago.
In 2015, of the more than 28,000 people paroled in the state, more than 3,200 returned to just five zip codes, which represent West Side communities like Austin, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park, according to IDOC data.
And if recent historical trends hold, around half of them will return to prison within three years of getting out.
The rates of incarceration and recidivism were so troubling that, last February, Gov. Rauner created the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform to review the state’s criminal justice practices and to make recommendations that might reduce the state’s current population of more than 48,000 prisoners by 25 percent by 2025.
The commission even concedes that, despite how critically important state IDs are to gaining lawful employment and housing, ex-offenders often have to clear unnecessarily difficult barriers before obtaining them.
Crawford, a former inmate himself who started F.A.I.T.H. a year before he was released from prison in the early 1990s, said he’s pressured lawmakers to draw up legislation removing those barriers.
More than a decade ago, he said, he was part of a legislative effort to require IDOC to provide ex-offenders with temporary ID cards when they’re released. They have 30 days to take the cards to an Illinois Secretary of State’s office, where they can obtain a standard state ID for a fee of $20.
But even that measure, both F.A.I.T.H. and commission members agree, is riddled with implementation problems.
“They can’t just go down to the Secretary of State and get the IDs. They’ve got to have three pieces of information,” Crawford said, among them a birth certificate, a Social Security card and a proof of residency.
But if an ex-offender is virtually homeless, Crawford said, proof of residency can be difficult to come by. And if he doesn’t have a job to get money, he might not be able to produce the $20 fee.
All of those hurdles, the commission report notes, leave “too many former inmates without proper identification at the time when having this proof can be critical to their reintegration.”
One member of the commission, Republican State Sen. Karen McConnaughay (33rd), has sponsored a bill that would require IDOC and the Secretary of State to collaborate on issuing state ID cards to eligible inmates upon release. The bipartisan bill passed the state Senate in April and now sits in the House Rules Committee.
“The ability to secure employment and other services is a critical part of the reintegration process,” said McConnaughay in an April statement, “but one that is currently unnecessarily difficult for many former inmates to obtain.”
Former inmate Deangelo Hampton could’ve benefited from McConnaughay’s proposed method. Hampton told Northern Public Radio in March that it took him two months to get a state ID after he was released from prison.
“They talking about you can use your jail stuff to get state IDs, that’s just a lie,” Hampton said. “We went through a lot.”
When it had the funds, F.A.I.T.H. would act as a counselor of sorts, guiding ex-offenders like Hampton through the bureaucratic maze. The organization would direct them on how to obtain Social Security cards, birth certificates and other documents essential to obtaining an ID card.
The organization also convened a community advisory group on the first Friday of each month with social service organizations, academic institutions, faith-based organizations and other community entities that worked as a source for networking and referrals relating to prisoner re-entry. The group, Crawford said, hasn’t met in several months.
“It’s a sad situation when we’ve been servicing people and people have been depending on us once they come back in the community and they can’t get those basic services we provided,” he said, adding that, over the two decades F.A.I.T.H. has been around, he estimates that it’s served more than 50,000 people.
“We’ve sacrificed, we’ve done everything we could to remain open, but we’ve just been unable to do it.”
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), said he’s talked to many people like Crawford and Hampton over the last 10 months the state has been without a budget.
“The governor’s failure to bring a budget that would support these programs has been a tragedy,” Taliaferro said. “We have a lot of people who rely on that assistance; unfortunately, a lot of those programs have been cut and those cuts affect the entire community. That’s why you see many people using alternative means to make ends meet.”
A lawsuit to spawn others?
The Pay Now lawsuit was filed by dozens of the some of the biggest social service companies and organizations in the state — including the Illinois Public Health Association, Lutheran Child and Family Services and Youth Outreach Services. Among them, those organizations service thousands of people on the West Side in areas such as mental health, disability services, adult education, prisoner re-entry and senior services.
A March 2016 United Way survey of social service agencies in every county in the state found that 85 percent of them have reduced their clientele. Nearly half of survey respondents reported tapping into their cash reserves and taking on debt to stay afloat. The average credit line reported was $300,000.
Rick Valesquez, the CEO of Youth Outreach Services, said he’s had to lay off almost half of his staff of 124 and cut vital services. Many of those cuts are concentrated in areas like Austin, he said.
“Most of the layoffs tend to be concentrated in those programs that work with high-risk kids and in areas where there are low-income families, high rates of crime and poor school performance,” he said. “You don’t see the cuts in state budgets affecting children’s families in places like Oak Brook.”
So far, no such recourse by smaller social service providers like F.A.I.T.H. has made headlines, even though some of the larger social service providers think things could change.
“I think others will come along as we proceed down this course,” he said. “We are in new territory right now. We’ve had to plead our case for elected officials to throw us bread crumbs that have been getting smaller and smaller every year. This is a different path, but eventually, we’ll see more people participating in this kind of action. It will grow.”
Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, the executive director of the Oak Park-based Collaboration for Early Childhood, said that she thinks it’s a “good possibility” that smaller social service providers, such as daycares — many of which have gone months without pay and have had to cut their clientele or shut their doors altogether — could launch a similar civil action.
“I think it’s something that childcare provider agencies should think about for no other reason than to draw attention to the cause,” she said.
When asked if he considered a civil action similar to Pay Now’s, Crawford said he hadn’t. He noted that he only became aware of that litigation after reading a newspaper article. In the meantime, he waits.
“There are so many other [social service agencies] that are going to close down or have already closed temporarily,” he said. “This will keep up until the governor does something about that budget. Now he said he’s optimistic, but that’s just political talk. Nobody’s done anything.”