Illinois social services agencies have struggled for the past year to communicate the message that state spending cuts are more than just a problem for poor people in Chicago and the Democrats who represent them.
Now they’ve got some new data to back it up.
Illinois Partners for Human Service, a group of 850 organizations operating in the state, released Monday an interactive online “Heat Map” to identify the specific effects of state spending reductions.
Instead of relying on anecdotal stories to make its case, the group crunched information provided by the state Department of Human Services and Department on Aging to calculate the impact by county and state legislative district.
Judith Gethner, the organization’s executive director, said the numbers show that the fallout from the spending cuts has been “totally bipartisan” with losses landing on suburban and Downstate areas represented by Republicans as well as the Democratic areas more commonly associated with social service needs.
“The declines were all across the board,” Gethner said.
While that may be good news from a fairness perspective, it calls into question the political calculus that has led GOP lawmakers to stick with Gov. Bruce Rauner in their legislative battles over a state budget.
For example, one of the biggest hits from the Department on Aging’s spending reductions was in the district of Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine. Murphy, who announced his resignation last week, saw his district experience a steep $54 million drop in spending by the department — or 41 percent — from 2015.
That exceeded even the $49 million (30 percent) reduction in the district of Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat.
Also taking a big hit, the study shows, was the district of Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, receiving $16 million or 39 percent less in Department on Aging spending than in the prior year. Brady’s district also took a $6 million, 42 percent hit from the Department of Human Services.
I should interject that spending was attributed for purposes of the study on the basis of the location of the headquarters of the organization receiving the payments, not where the services were necessarily performed. But that still would make it a political problem for any legislators, even if their constituents weren’t receiving all those services.
Comparing the first nine months of the state’s 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, the study found the two state agencies made $383 million less in total payments — about 30 percent — to providers in this past year.
The reduction in payouts naturally translates into fewer services provided for mental health, homeless prevention, drug rehab, teen support and senior programs, to mention just a few. It also has resulted in layoffs by human service providers.
When the state pulls its funding, the organizations that provide these services “have no other way of being able to make up that money,” Gethner said.
Among the organizations identified in the study as experiencing large funding declines were:
AgeOptions, $4.6 million; Thresholds, $3.8 million; Northeast Illinois Area Agency on Aging, $2.4 million; Youth Outreach Services in Chicago, $1.5 million; and Council for Jewish Elderly, $1.2 million.
Gethner invites the public to go online at https://sites.google.com/a/robparal.com/the-damage-done-v3/ to see for themselves the extent of the spending reductions in their own counties and neighborhoods.
People often urge me to back up my stories about the impact of the budget cuts with more data, which I tend to resist because I don’t trust a lot of the numbers I’m presented.
So here you go, more data than any one person could consume in a single sitting.
After wading through it, you may have greater appreciation for the storytelling approach.