United Way, business, labor demand end to state budget stalemate

Chicago Sun-Times

Written By Maudlyne Ihejirika Posted: 10/19/2015, 08:43pm

A survey of more than 500 human service agencies conducted by United Way of Illinois finds the sector suffering significant and profound impact from the state’s four-month-long budget impasse, said business and labor leaders who joined United Way Monday to demand resolution.

AT&T Illinois CEO Paul La Schiazza and Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez stood with United Way President/CEO Wendy DuBoe at a news conference at the downtown headquarters of Access Living to decry the deterioration of human services.

“We are four months into the fiscal year with no budget, and there seems to be no end in sight. This is a grave situation. We want to share the picture that we see out in the field,” said DuBoe.

In United Way’s second such survey since the impasse began, conducted Sept. 28-Oct. 2, 84 percent of the 544 human service agencies responding indicated they have had to cut off clients — up from 34 percent in July. Additionally, 79 percent had eliminated programs, most impacting children and working adults, the survey found.

“As the largest private funder of human services across the state, we are deeply concerned with what we see going on with vulnerable citizens. We are standing together in a call to action,” DuBoe said.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been in a budget stalemate over fiscal year 2016, which started July 1. Rauner, battling with Democrats, vetoed all but the budget for elementary and secondary schools. Since then the bills payment backlog to vendors like the human service agencies funded by United Way has soared. It’s expected to exceed $8.5 billion by year’s end.

“The results of the survey released today indicate things are getting worse, and the state budget impasse is rapidly diminishing the economic viability of many human service organizations,” said La Schiazza, who is also chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

He noted the survey found about a third of the agencies have plowed through their cash reserves, with little left to keep holding on.

“Without a budget resolution, human service organizations are exhausting their reserves and finding it necessary to take out lines of credit. And although a qualified, trained workforce is critical to any business’s success, the impasse is forcing them to lay off staff and reduce hours at an alarming rate. It will be extremely difficult to overcome that loss of highly trained staff,” La Schiazza said.

The crisis this past weekend saw fellow Republican and former Gov. Jim Edgar urge Rauner to quit holding the budget “hostage.” Democrats are seeking a tax increase to balance the budget. Rauner first wants legislative approval of union reforms and other priorities he says are crucial to making the state competitive.

“We need a budget,” Edgar told the State Journal-Register in Springfield last week. “These other issues, they’re important, some of them I think more important than others, but you don’t hold the budget hostage to get those. … It has been very destabilizing for state government. I think a lot of people have suffered.”

Edgar also told the State Journal-Register: “You’ve got dozens and dozens of programs that aren’t being funded, agencies that are having trouble doing their mission, and I just think it’s very unfortunate.”

At the news conference Monday, Ramirez noted Edgar’s comments. “It’s what we’ve been saying all along,” Ramirez said.

“This budget impasse is causing irreparable harm. The need for these services does not decrease just because the funding is held up. It will continue to rise as economic disparity in our state continues to increase,” Ramirez added. “What we need right now is a thoughtful budget aimed at growing the economy and expanding the middle class. This impasse threatens our state’s economic viability and is counter-productive to the state’s economic interests.”

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