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Social service groups bemoan lack of state budget

On the eve of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s second State of the State address, a group of social service agencies on Tuesday urged the Republican and his Democratic adversaries to quit squabbling and save Illinois from “collapsing.”

“From where we are, Illinois is weak and getting weaker,” said Emily Miller, director of policy and advocacy with Voices for Illinois Children. “Every day the governor refuses to make the budget a number one priority, we get even more weak. Without a budget, billions of dollars have been cut — ranging from tuition assistance that enables low-income students to afford college and after-school programs that keep youth safe.”

Miller’s organization is part of The Responsible Budget Coalition, which includes 250 social service groups statewide.

Miller and others spoke Tuesday at the Thompson Center, saying that without a budget, the state is racking up “billions and billions of dollars in unpaid bills that will haunt Illinois for years to come.”

Rauner, who is set to speak in Springfield Wednesday, has blamed Democrats for the months-long stalemate over the state budget. Rauner has said a budget agreement would involve Democrats agreeing to his pro-business “turnaround agenda.”

But on Tuesday, the social service agencies representatives said the governor and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly need to put aside their ideological differences and pass a budget.

“So we are asking our governor and all of our leadership and all of our champions in Illinois to do the right thing and save our state,” said Celena Roldan, executive director of Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago, which provides a range of services for low-income Latino families.

Since last July, the loss of state funds has forced Erie House to lay off eight full-time employees, Roldan said, which has “dramatically impacted” services to about 250 out of the 5,000 clients the organization serves annually.

So how are agencies surviving in these uncertain times?

With a mix of funding sources, including United Way and private philanthropy, said Andrea Durbin, CEO for Illinois Collaboration on Youth. Others are functioning through court orders, Durbin said.

“A significant number of agencies . . . have tapped into their lines of credit, they’ve depleted their cash reserves,” Durbin said.

Asked whether state Democrats should be more willing to compromise with Rauner on his agenda, Miller suggested it’s the governor who could do more.

“When I come to Springfield with policy priorities, I don’t expect to get those things achieved in the first year I’m there,” Miller said. “I had to build coalitions. I had to build support for things I felt were good policies . . . Real change takes time. What has to be done right now is a budget because all of these people are suffering. Children and seniors are suffering. Whether there’s any merit to any of the turnaround agenda is not for me to say.”