Social agencies: Illinois budget called a 'life-or-death' issue

2010-05-18T23:54:00Z Social agencies: Illinois budget called a 'life-or-death' issueDustin Lemmon The Quad-City Times
May 18, 2010 11:54 pm  • 

Illinois legislators have failed to remedy numerous budget problems, and some of the agencies being affected want lawmakers to return to Springfield and find solutions.

Those who spoke out at a news conference Tuesday in Moline said they can’t withstand more delayed payments and can’t afford more staffing cuts.

The Rev. Stacie Fidlar, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Rock Island, said that when lawmakers left Springfield earlier this month, they were considering cuts to more resources for schools, health and human services and public safety, among others.

“The plan legislators are looking at right now relies too heavily on things we’ve tried over and over in the past,” she said. “These cuts only hurt Illinois in tough times.”

Fidlar said those at the news conference were encouraging lawmakers to pass an income tax increase.

Mary Bivens, program director at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, which hosted the news conference, said it is not unusual for the state to be three to four months behind on payments to her program.

“We borrow money to avoid cutting services,” she said, “and the cost of borrowing just adds to a vicious cycle.”

If nothing is done to resolve the state’s budget issues, many human service providers eventually will shut down, and Lutheran Social Services will continue to cut back on its services, which include helping abused and neglected children, people with chronic mental illness or developmental disabilities, people with addictions and seniors living at home, Bivens said.

Dorraine Young, a home care worker in East Moline, worries that more budget cuts will result in  seniors and people with disabilities losing the assistance she and others provide.

She recalled the story of a 68-year-old East Moline man she helps who had an infection in one of his legs and was in danger of losing it when she began visiting him every day and making sure he took his medication. When he later returned to the doctor, the man’s leg had improved and doctors amputated a toe instead of his entire leg, she said.

“For many, it’s a matter of life or death, or losing a toe or a leg,” she said of state funding.

Sue Swisher, of the Child Abuse Council, said the state has cut more than $4 billion dollars in human services over the past eight years.

“More cuts will be devastating and will absolutely compromise (efforts) to provide adequate services,” she said.

With fewer neglected and abused children served, the number of teen pregnancies and incarcerations will climb, she said.

“We need state leaders to get back to Springfield and dig down deep to find the leadership skills they will need to address the budget,” Swisher said.

Local legislators said Tuesday they sympathize with those who want a budget solution and understand the importance of public service programs.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he supports a tax increase but doesn’t see it happening right now.

“Unfortunately, the appetite for the tax increase is not there at the moment,” he said.

“It appears an income tax increase is not even being considered at this point,” added State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan.

Jacobs doesn’t think lawmakers should return to Springfield until they are closer to reaching an agreement.

“I agree with them (the service agencies), but at the same time, I don’t think we should be at the capital right now because it’s just costing money,” he said.

Verschoore and state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, expect to be called back before the end of the month. Verschoore said if some lawmakers don’t change their minds on some of the proposals, including options to cut services or delay pension payments, they could be meeting all summer.

“I really don’t know what we’re going to do,” Verschoore said. “All the options they put before us went down in flames.”

Boland thinks lawmakers need to look for new solutions, including a potential tax on luxury services, such as tanning salons.

“We have to come up with some creative ideas beyond what has been proposed so far,” he said.

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