Social service agency leaders call for budget action

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matt george

As the state’s budget stalemate enters its third month, the situation is becoming more dire for those who rely on social service agencies for help with living, the leaders of some of those local agencies said on Tuesday.

 

They gathered together at The Children's Home to implore the Illinois General Assembly to find a way to adopt a new budget so the pain being inflicted on those citizens can be stopped soon. “This is our call to action; enough is enough,” said Matt George, CEO of The Children's Home. “We’re not asking either side of the aisle to take a stand. We are asking both sides of the aisle to come together and get it done.”

Fifteen agencies were represented at a news conference called so they could let it be known how their clients, including children, adults with developmental disabilities, and seniors, are affected by the stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. The previous state budget expired June 30.

Others who attended the news conference with George included Laraine Bryson of the Tri-County Urban League, Lesley Matuszak of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, Patti Gratton of the Community Workshop and Training Center, Carl Cannon of ELITE, Jamie Durdel of Tazewell County Resource Centers, Sue Paul of the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Connie Voss of Common Place, Becky Rossman of Neighborhood House, Jeff Gress of Crittenton Center and Michael Stephan of Heart of Illinois United Way.

George and the other were quick to not blame area legislators for the budget crisis and in fact they praised them for their efforts in keeping some social services funded enough to continue operating.

While the fact the stalemate is hurting many agencies is well known, George said some people may not understand the real human side of the equation. As example he told of a young boy at The Children’s Home who asked him if he was going to be homeless and a 14-year-old boy arrested for shoplifting only to find the only thing he stole was food for his younger siblings. “That’s not right,” he said.

Also not well-understood, said Bryson, is the ripple effect the crisis is having. That includes shutting down programs that may not be able to be revived and maxing out the lines of credit with the banks refusing to extend them knowing the state won’t repay them. “The domino effect of this is significant,” she said. “You can stretch and stretch, but eventually you pop.”

George said other benefactors also are reluctant to help with money if programs are going to have to shut down anyway.

Matuszak said the after school tutoring program her agency runs is seeing more kids than ever before but she is walking a fine line because of her nearly-depleted line of credit. “I am going to have to let people go and tell clients no. That’s just wrong,” she said.

Stephan said the agencies there and those who receive funding through United Way represent the most vulnerable citizens. “This is coming on the heels of already cuts to vital services; $12 million in the last two years (because of state budget woes). There is no way we can make that up that difference,” he said.

Gratton said another commonly misunderstood factor is that these agencies are mandated by law to provide these services, regardless of the budget problems. “You get the point you look at every single penny you are spending. Not dollars; pennies,” she said.

Cannon, the former large and loud former corrections officer whose ELITE program is helping keep teens out of trouble, offered one suggestion to resolve the crisis: “If Gov. Rauner and Mr. Madigan need an intervention, I’d be glad to set it up.”

Cannon said state officials can get a good idea of the effect of the crisis by simply looking at the children in need, children from families who can’t afford food or clothes or even to get school uniforms provided to the children clean.

 

One thing obvious from the crisis, George said, is that the state and its people are being tested. “Economic hardship and political pressure don’t define who we are. They test who we are and right now, we are failing that test,” he said.

Laraine Bryson - Tri-County (Peoria) Urban League, Inc.

Lesley Matuszak - Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, Inc.

Patti Gratton - Community Workshop and Training Center, Inc.

Carl Cannon - ELITE

Jamie Durdel - Tazewell County Resource Centers, Inc.

Sue Paul - IPMR

Connie Voss - Common Place

Becky Rossman - Neighborhood House

Jeff Gress - Crittenton Centers

Michael Stephan - Heart of Illinois United Way 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).