“Doom sky” by Delyth Angharad

August 4, 2017; Chicago Tribune/Evanston Review

In the appropriately titled “Damage Done,” the Chicago Foundation for Women documented the devastating results of two years without a state budget in Illinois. Focusing specifically on the impact on women and girls in Illinois and the nonprofits that serve them, the report details job losses, service cutbacks, and lasting damage to overall infrastructure. Trust in state government and its elected leaders seems to be another area of loss.

The report, in its executive summary, notes:

The State of Illinois finally ended more than two years without a complete state budget on July 6, 2017, when the Illinois House of Representatives voted to override vetoes by the Governor. Elected officials should be commended for acting. However, lasting damage to the social service infrastructure will make serving people, especially women and children, much harder in the years to come.

Even with the passage of a budget, Illinois accumulated a backlog of bills totaling $14.7 billion with expected late payment interest costs of approximately $800 million. It will take years to work through the backlog of bills. For services funded, providers had to wait, on average, eight months for payment of services as the state ended Fiscal Year 2017.

This report summarizes the background of the budget stalemate and its effect on women and children to show the importance of consistent funding for the state safety net. The report demonstrates that women’s issues include not only access to reproductive health, but also access to affordable child care, housing availability, parent engagement, affordable healthcare, and higher education. These issues impact two generations (women and their children) and affect the lives of all Illinoisans.

CFW’s report digs into the specifics of the losses for both nonprofits and the people they serve. The personal stories of how the Illinois budget impasse played out in the nonprofit sector demonstrate the sector’s resiliency in hard times and the difficult decisions that had to be made.

  • The last stopgap funding bill contained no FY17 general revenue funds for domestic violence shelters and prevention services. In 2016, more than 3,600 adults and 4,200 children seeking shelter because of domestic violence were turned away. The recently approved budget includes funding for FY17 as well as FY18, but it will take time to restore those services cut during the impasse, if they are restored at all.
  • The Council for Jewish Elderly (CJE) closed a 22-year-old personal care program and laid off all program staff because the state had covered 82 percent of this $2 million-dollar program and funds were not received for over a year.
  • Child care subsidies that allow low-income families to access affordable, high quality child care so that parents can work or go to school, were impacted. Due to changes in the eligibility requirements, 30,000 fewer children received subsidies than in 2015. The Ounce of Prevention Fund surveyed home-visiting programs for low-income preschoolers and their families and found that almost 60 percent of 40 programs surveyed had laid off staff, reduced salaries, and cut the number of families served.
  • Health care was not immune. Due to the budget impasse, 34 percent fewer eligible women in Illinois received breast and cervical cancer screening. The toll for this could be in lives lost to cancer.
  • Illinois programs providing homeless prevention services, shelter-finding support, and wrap-around services had to lay off staff and increase caseloads for case managers.

Making up for these lost revenues now that Illinois has a budget is not a sure thing. With looming cuts to Medicaid and possible across-the-board budget reductions in federal agency programs, the future does not look bright for these struggling nonprofits. Add to that the limited number of private sources of funding, and the stage is set for fierce competition among nonprofits for sources of revenue that are still mostly inadequate. Providing fewer services, employing fewer staff, and looking for new, sustainable sources of revenue is not the desired outcome for serving families in Illinois—but it might be the new normal.—Carole Levine