Blocking traffic along Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile, chanting and waving signs, hundreds of protesters gathered Monday to rail against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts, which they say will be devastating to Illinois’ poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
One particular budget item attracted dozens of protesters in their 70s and 80s. It would affect senior citizens who depend on the Community Care Program, which provides state money to pay for home care for seniors.
And Patricia Drennan wasn’t having any of it.
“A lot of us old ladies don’t have kids that live here that can take us to the doctor and come in and run the vacuum cleaner and get us to the grocery store and all that,” said Drennan, 82, who lives alone in the North Center neighborhood.
The program, she said, helps seniors live independently and keeps them out out nursing homes, an expense that would be much greater to taxpayers.
Drennan feared a plan by Rauner that would implement new qualifying restrictions that would make it harder for seniors to gain access to the program.
About 30 protesters held hands and blocked Michigan Avenue just north of the Michigan Avenue Bridge for nearly 20 minutes at about 11:30 a.m. before police escorted the group off the roadway.
Sister Gwen Farry, 81, with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was among the group of traffic blockers who expected to receive citations from police.
“This is a moral issue,” said Farry, of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Hyde Park. “I’ve made phone calls and signed online petitions but wanted to do more to protest the cuts that will affect the most vulnerable in our state.”
Protesters called for wealthy corporations and residents in Illinois to pay more taxes.
Critics say Rauner is using potential cuts to state social service programs as leverage to gain support for fighting unions.
A statement issued by a Rauner spokeswoman after the protest read: “The administration has taken a series of management steps to responsibly manage the state’s finances, because Speaker Madigan, Senate President Cullerton and the legislators Madigan controls overspent taxpayer money causing a $4 billion deficit. The governor has tried to negotiate on critical reforms to free up resources to help the most vulnerable and pass a balanced budget, but unfortunately, the Speaker continues to block those reforms at the expense of the most vulnerable and the middle class.”
The protest was organized by a number of activist groups, including Jane Addams Senior Caucus and Fair Economy Illinois.