Illinois Impasse Continues—and the Collateral Damage Grows

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August 14, 2015; KTVI-TV (Fox 2, St. Louis, MO) and Reboot Illinois

The human cost of the inability of the state of Illinois to approve a budget grows higher as the impasse’s length grows. The deadline for having a budget was more than seven weeks ago, and there are few signs that the standoff, which pits a legislature controlled by Democrats against Republican governor Bruce Rauner, is any closer to ending. What is certain is that more and more people who rely on services whose funding is in limbo are paying a high price for governmental gridlock.

With a new college year ready to begin, Reboot Illinois recently pointed out how the state’s budget impasse is starting to threaten many college students:

For around 136,000 of the state’s most financially vulnerable students, the excitement of the start of a new school year comes with real uncertainty. Students who depend on the help of a Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant to attend college are caught up in the gears of a protracted state budget stalemate. No appropriation has been made to fund the MAP program. And that leaves students and families evaluating how they’ll pay for college and campuses across the state debating how best to help those students—with the clock ticking…Without MAP, the (other) loans, grants, work and institutional aid resources available to needy students would be severely diminished and potentially freeze out a group of students.

At the other end of the age spectrum, senior adult services are also feeling the impact of uncertain state funding. WQAD in Illinois’ Quad Cities region reported, “The Illinois budget stalemate could force the Western Illinois Agency on Aging to close in September, at least temporarily, without legislation to restore funding. There’s simply no money to pay for the staff of three and its support programs in Aledo.”

According to a Fox News report, “The lack of an Illinois state budget is forcing the Monroe Randolph Transit District to shut its doors indefinitely. The not-for-profit agency serves a predominantly rural population, ranging from schoolchildren who need transportation from day care to school to seniors who must get to medical appointments. […] The agency’s executive director, Jesica Gentry, worked to keep the service running as long as possible. She expected $147,000 in federal dollars and $650,000 in state funds to keep the service operating from July 1st through June of 2016. ‘We are the only provider of public transportation in Monroe and Randolph counties and this is a vital service to the people in our area and we want to be open,’ she said Thursday. On Friday, she and 19 other employees will be laid off.”

Even when both sides seem to agree, they don’t agree and act. Progress Illinois described how the continued bickering affected a bill all sides agreed was necessary:

Legislation to authorize the spending of $5 billion in federal funds cleared the Senate last week with bipartisan support, but it ran into trouble in the House. Republicans backed away from the measure Tuesday after House Speaker Michael Madigan added $1.5 billion in additional funding, including $585 million in state money, to the legislation. Rauner described the state funds in the bill as a “poison pill.”

And those served by the programs that are supposed to be the beneficiaries of these federal funds still won’t receive their monies!

The pain of the government’s inaction may be growing across the state, but it does not seem to have changed anyone’s position. Everyone seems to be waiting for the opposite side to blink. And while they wait, buses and vans stop rolling, meals stop being served, and students worry about their futures.—Marty Levine