Op-Ed: Illinois Has Pushed Our Most Vulnerable Further Into Obscurity

We are on the verge of entering year three without a fully funded, balanced budget in the state of Illinois. This increasingly likely scenario is hard to swallow, particularly for folks who are living on the margins and struggling to make ends meet.

These individuals—children and youth, single parents, working families, immigrants, people with disabilities, the elderly, those suffering from mental health issues and addiction, the homeless—were already all too easily forgotten by politicians and even the best intentioned voters. Failure to pass a budget pushes them further into obscurity.

Under no circumstances can such a modus operandi become normalized. This budget crisis, which has ravaged our state and the victims it leaves in its path, is unacceptable.

The consequences are plain and obvious as the safety net that had served to support our state’s most vulnerable individuals and communities continues to unravel. Sadly, many of our human service providers have had no choice but to cut programs or close their doors altogether. And with mounting uncertainty surrounding state and federal funding, those troubles are only likely to multiply as we enter the new fiscal year.

Under no circumstances can such a modus operandi become normalized. This budget crisis, which has ravaged our state and the victims it leaves in its path, is unacceptable.

At Erie Neighborhood House, we’ve been fortunate to continue providing vital education programs and services to low-income, primarily Latinx families throughout Chicago in the midst of the storm.

But it hasn’t been without struggle.

If Springfield fails to pass a balanced, fully funded budget, Erie House stands to lose upwards of $1M over the next 12 months—more than 10% of our annual revenue prior to the beginning of the budget impasse in July 2015.

Some of our programs will be forced to proceed short-staffed. Other programs—particularly those serving children and youth, where licensing requirements determine student-to-staff ratios—will experience a decline in enrollment.

There’s an ill-conceived notion that nonprofit organizations should simply do more with less, but we believe our communities deserve better.

And what is most confounding about the latter outcome is that investing in children and youth—and the families who support them—is exactly what our state needs to do if we’re truly going to build a better Illinois.

Quality, affordable child care lays a foundation for success in school, at the same time giving parents the opportunity to work, go back to school and achieve a better life for their families. Changes Governor Rauner made in 2015 to income guidelines for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), however, have made it increasingly difficult for low-income families to qualify for such care.

After-school programs offer a safe haven to youth and deliver the academic support they need to graduate from high school and go on to college. Unfortunately, the fate of Teen REACH—the main funding source for programs serving at-risk youth throughout Illinois—is inextricably linked to the state budget.

But our children and youth also feel the effects of cuts to programs for adults as well. When parents don’t have access to education, workforce development, immigration assistance and other support services, their kids lose out, too.

Springfield has let this impasse drag on for far too long. We need a fair, balanced budget now—the future of Illinois depends on it.

Kirstin Chernawsky
Executive Director, Erie Neighborhood House

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