August 4, 2015; Chicago Tribune

A report based on a survey conducted by the United Way of Illinois sheds new light on how badly Illinois’ failure to approve a budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1st is hurting many organizations and the clients they serve.

The United Way’s report, conducted between July 13th and 17th, polled “more than 400 human service agencies across every county in Illinois. […] Survey respondents represented a range of service categories including youth development, early childhood education, mental health, emergency housing, senior services and employment training, and varied in budget size from less than $500,000 to more than $15 million.”

Kristi Long, the chair of the United Way of Illinois, said, “Our leaders in Springfield and the citizens of Illinois need to understand that the ongoing budget impasse is causing genuine disruption and hardship for people in Illinois who need services and for the agencies that deliver them.”

Some key findings of the report:

  • 34% of Illinois human service agencies have already cut the number of clients they serve. Program categories hit particularly hard include childhood education and job training.
  • 39% of agencies responding have tapped into cash reserves to continue operations. Of those agencies using cash reserves, 70% have 3 months of cash on hand or less.
  • 24% of agencies have tapped into lines of credit to shore up operations.
  • 19% of agencies will deplete their cash reserve by the end of August.

The United Way also noted the strategies being used by state-funded organizations to manage the impact of the state’s inability to make payments to the organizations providing state supported services:

“Among the other measures human service agencies reported taking to maintain operations during the stalemate are increasing their waiting lists for services, referring clients to other agencies where possible, not filling vacant positions and laying off staff. Several agencies reported the need for more drastic action in the near term, including the Prairie Council on Aging. Based in Jacksonville and serving 3,000 people across five counties, the agency reported that it would exhaust its reserves by September and face dire choices without some resolution to the state budget situation.

“If the delays continue, thousands of mentally ill clients will be without psychiatric support, including medications,” said Rashad Saafir, president of the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavior Health Center in Garfield Park. “The result is client suffering, disruption to families, and increases in the use of more expensive emergency room and inpatient psychiatric services.”

According to Reboot Illinois and the Associated Press, “Community Action Agencies had joined a growing list of groups that had shut down. It announced recent it was closing centers statewide “forcing agencies to turn away thousands of Illinois’s most vulnerable residents.” And the Belleville News Democrat reported the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Center in East St. Louis stopped providing rides and meals for the elderly.

Maybe this pain is beginning to have an impact on the state’s political leadership. A bill that would allow the state to release federal pass-through funds moved closer to passage. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the plan of Illinois lawmakers to direct almost $5 billion in federal funds to social service agencies after one advocate described the state’s long-running budget problems as “a ‘death march’ for the organizations and the people they serve.” The $4.8 billion would fund programs that provide nutrition to women and children, help low-income residents pay utility bills, and offer cancer screenings to people who cannot afford them, among others.

Stay tuned for the next exciting, or painful, chapter in Illinois’ tragic soap opera.—Marty Levine