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Social Service Programs Forced To Close; Now Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless


 Many Illinois residents likely are going about their days, without feeling any direct impact of the state's budget impasse. Some may not even realize there is no budget -- decisions by lawmakers and judges have kept money flowing to certain areas. But agencies left out of those deals are getting increasingly desperate. Friday afternoon one of the state's largest social service providers announced that it's eliminating 750 positions (nearly half its workforce) and closing 30 programs that serve thousands of people.

That includes respite services in Rockford, mental health counseling in Dixon, and a support for seniors in Rock Island and Peoria.

Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky spoke with the President of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois Mark Stutrud about that decision.

The closures announced on Jan. 22 may not be the end of the non-profit's problems. After years of leaner budgets, Stutrud says he'd worked to shore up revenues, to get leaner, but he says no provider could have been prepared for this: Nearly eight months, and no budget. Waiting on the government to come through with a promised $6 million. It's forced Lutheran to shut down programs that serve thousands of people. Now, Stutrud says, he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Stutrud says he expects lawmakers will eventually pass a two-year budget, covering retroactive, as well as future, spending. Whenever that happens, he says, "we'll have questions: what will happen? And is there enough new revenue ... to accomplish what we believe to be right in the state of Illinois?"

Or will there be still more cuts to come?

In the interim, Illinois is spending millions of dollars on foster care, Medicaid, and other expenses despite a lack of budget, because of laws that require it, as well as court orders and consent decrees.

Stutrud says that's taken pressure off of politicians to reach a deal.

"There's no doubt. Now I don't know what's in the minds of the legislature or in the mind of the governor. If that were not true, would there be more pressure? Would it have brought the impasse around and resolved it? I would have to say it's a factor. Is it the factor? I don't know," he says.

It's not just Lutheran Social Services that's hurting. Springfield's Helping Hands homeless shelter is planning a partial shutdown, come mid-February Children's Home + Aid says it will suspend crisis intervention services for runaways and at-risk youth in Chicago's Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods, and mental health centers (especially in rural areas of the state) have reduced their hours of operation.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner says he's frustrated about the lack of action in Springfield and will work to pass a balanced budget once Democrats agree to his structural changes. Democrats blame Rauner for prioritizing an ideological agenda instead of the budget.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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