Illinois social services cuts to continue with lack of state budget

Robin Opsahl, Assistant City Editor

Illinois Budget Crisis

Putting pressure on the governor to pass the state budget is the only way to prevent further cuts to state social services, local and state officials said.

As the Illinois budget crisis continues, more nonprofit agencies are put at risk for current and future funding. Oscar Murillo, Evanston International City/County Management Association fellow, said psychological services, drug and alcohol treatment programs and others social services are being shut down in nearby municipalities across the state due to lack of funding.

Many nonprofit agencies, Murillo said, are providing services with the expectation of being reimbursed when a state budget comes out, despite reimbursement not being assured. He said that although the city was “adequately prepared” to help local agencies through the budget crisis, the coming year would still be incredibly difficult for the services affected.

“We’re trying to change as best we can to offer services to be able to compensate for this, but we’re not quite sure how things are going to turn out,” Murillo said. “Until we figure out how things are going to turn out, it’s a waiting game for both organizations and the city.”

Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, a nonprofit mental health center, may have to cut staffing and reduce services because it is uncertain whether the organization will receive a projected half million dollars in funding, said the organization’s CEO Ann Fisher Raney. Turning Point hosted its annual town hall meeting Friday at Skokie Public Library, inviting a panel of Illinois federal and state legislators as well as Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen to speak on what’s projected to happen to mental health and other care services because of the budget.

“Things are getting worse for a lot of agencies,” Raney said. “We’re in new and dangerous territory because of the budget crisis.”

The discussion centered on the budget’s impact on local mental health and other social services. Many of those in the audience were recipients of Turning Point services and other aid through nonprofit and government programs that have lost or are at risk for losing mental health care because of potential cuts.

“A lot of people are giving up hope,” Raney said.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) called on the audience to contact their state representatives and senators about the budget crisis and tell them about what problems they were facing because of the lack of action by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“This situation is so removed from human consequences that it makes you ill,” Biss said at the town hall. “We need to make the governor negotiate and realize how this isn’t just politics. This impasse is hurting real people in Illinois.”

In Evanston, many service providers are under similar stresses as Turning Point, needing to reduce staffing and services without assurance of funds in the upcoming year, Murillo said. Organizations that provide services for homeless Evanston residents, including soup kitchens and warming shelters as well as provisions like child care subsidies, are forced to reduce how many people they serve and the breadth of programs provided.

Murillo said these deficits will create problems for clients in the short-term, but the focus should be the community problems that created larger issues like homelessness and poverty that go unaddressed.

“When these problems are not treated, they lead to more problems that, from a financial standpoint, are costly problems that need to be dealt with at some point,” Murillo said. “Not even for the residents, but from a county standpoint and from the state.”

Although the lack of budget creates uncertainty for the future of many agencies in the state, Murillo said Evanston residents should be reassured the city has plans to help agencies in “worst case scenarios.”

“There are different degrees of preparedness, and we, as Evanston residents, should be grateful at how equipped Evanston is to handle these problems,” Murillo said. “We’re not going to leave the agencies out there to dry.”

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