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Damning new report details budget stalemate’s impact on Illinois kids, seniors

Crain’s Chicago Business

August 02, 2017

By Nona Tepper

Women and children who rely on state services are still feeling the effects of the Illinois budget impasse, despite the fact that legislators agreed on a new deal July 6.

Many agencies that rely on state funding and provide child care, health care, housing and other services are still reeling from two years of underfunding or no funding, said Mitch Lifson, senior policy analyst at Voices for Illinois Children, and co-author of a recent report on the budget impasse’s impact. Passing a budget is a step in the right direction, he said, but funding for many social services remains frayed.

“In many cases (in the latest budget), funding levels went back to what they were in fiscal year ’15,” he said. “During that time, there may have been an increase in the number of people seeking services or needing them, and so we haven’t accounted for that.” Even if the same services are funded in the new budget, he explains, there was no accounting for inflationary costs, either. “You’re looking at a situation in which costs have increased for the service provider.”

Even with a budget, Illinois has accumulated a backlog of bills totaling $14.7 billion, with expected late-payment interest costs of approximately $800 million. For services funded, providers had to wait an average of eight months for payment as the state ended its most recent fiscal year, according to the report, titled “Damage Done: The Impact of the Illinois Budget Stalemate on Women and Children,” produced by the Chicago Foundation for Women, Loyola University Chicago and the nonprofit Voices for Illinois Children.

Women and children of color were disproportionately affected by the budget impasse, according to the report, in part because the services that assist them—think child care centers and domestic violence shelters—were often officials’ last priority during the stalemate, said Gina Spitz, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Urban Research & Learning at Loyola and a co-author.

“It’s very clear that Springfield was sweeping the most vulnerable in the state under the rug,” Spitz said. “Because the stopgap measures often shielded middle-class folks from the damage the budget impasse was doing.”

Many organizations are still waiting on payments from the state, a delay that has led to facilities continuing to close or lay off staff. This instability has led to distrust among the women and children who use these services, Spitz said. She recalls a homeless shelter on Chicago’s South Side that closed for a few months because it lost funding. Since reopening, it’s only at 25 percent capacity.

“This population, they look for the most stable situation they can find,” Spitz said. “If the shelter closes, they don’t see this as a reliable place to lay their heads at night. The budget impasse created great uncertainty for the women and children who use these services.”

Other ways the budget impasse affected Illinoisans, according to the report:

  • Nearly 60 percent of more than 40 home visiting services indicated staff layoffs, salary cuts and a reduction in the number of families served. Home visiting services provide young mothers with support through regular visits with a trained health care professional.
  • 30,000 fewer children receive child care today than in June 2015 due to cuts in programs that provide subsidies for affordable care for low-income families.
  • 34 percent fewer women received preventive screenings for breast and cervical cancer in fiscal year 2016 compared to the year before. The impasse forced local providers to reduce hours, services and take on long waiting lists.
  • In 2016, more than 3,600 adults and 4,200 children seeking shelter at domestic violence centers were turned away because the stopgap funding bill contained no revenue to fund these shelters. Although the new budget contains funding for this fiscal year and next, “it will take time to restore those services cut during the impasse,” the report reads.
  • 90 percent of homeless shelters were forced to limit intake of new clients, reduce or eliminate services for current clients, lay off staff, implement furlough days or reduce work hours for staff, eliminate programs and close sites.
  • Senior meal delivery programs served fewer meals and continue to do so. One agency that previously served 650 meals daily now only services about 400 a day, according to the report.

Copyright © 2017 Crain Communication, Inc.

 

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