Georgia McKeever has always lived on her own, and one local agency is helping the 72-year-old East Moline woman continue her independence.
A case worker from Alternatives for the Older Adult regularly visits McKeever at Ridgewood Tower Apartments, where she lives, and helps her with housekeeping, errands and personal care. But like a lot of local agencies, the Moline-based Alternatives is getting squeezed by an ongoing Illinois state budget impasse and providers aren't sure what services may get cut.
"I like Illinois, but they keep saying they're broke," McKeever said. "How are they broke?"
Providers say they will continue assisting clients as long as they can, but without a state budget, they will do so with a lot of anxiety and confusion. The biggest challenge facing Alternatives, which assisted 16,692 clients in 2016, is the inability to plan for the coming year.
“No budget means we don’t know,” Alternatives director Kathy Weiman said. “We just don’t know how to plan one, two or three years out.”
The 30-year-old organization assists the elderly to stay in their homes by connecting them to various resources in the community. It covers a 10-county area between the Quad-Cities, Ottawa and Macomb.
“In that regard, we save the state of Illinois tons and tons of money,” Weiman said, adding the costs to stay in nursing homes are high and the majority of nursing home residents end up on Medicaid.
Weiman, who has spent 30 years in social service work in Illinois with a variety of agencies, said this year is the worst budget crisis she has seen.
“They always got a budget, good or bad,” she said. “The budget kind of lets you go, ‘OK, now we can plan.’ Without a budget, we are stuck in this place trying to maintain the best we can.”
Dozens of Quad-City agencies are affected by the ongoing budget impasse. The Child Abuse Council Quad-Cities in Rock Island stands to lose $350,000 in state grant money, said Angie Kendall, the agency’s director of development and communications.
“We’re OK through June,” Kendall said. “But after that, we’re left to operate an agency with guesses and empty promises. We are forced to do business this way every day.”
For 39 years, the Child Abuse Council has provided prevention, education and treatment programs for children and families in the bi-state metropolitan area. State money funds a home visitation prenatal program as well as therapy for abuse victims up to 5 years old.
Kendall said 44 percent of its state money was cut last year, which “pulled the rug out from under us,” causing staff cuts and the elimination of services. But, she said, this year’s impasse is the worst she has seen.
“The stress of keeping a program open affects our ability to provide the best possible service,” Kendall said.
The Rock Island County Health Department relies on state grants for most of its budget.
“If the state doesn’t pay, we run out of funding quickly,” said Janet Hill, the health department’s chief operating officer. “There is little cushion.”
The most vulnerable program, Hill said, is family case management, but that grant is being paid through a court order. Family case management works to reduce the state’s infant mortality rate by providing help and resources for parents or guardians who might be struggling. For example, the health department can help clients apply for subsidized housing or heating assistance.
In most years, the state would put out grants for the next fiscal year in about April. Last year, Hill said, it was well after July 1, the date the new fiscal year starts.
The health department is “OK at the moment,” Hill said, because grants through the end of the current fiscal year are still being paid.
Judith Gethner, executive director of the Chicago-headquartered Illinois Partners for Human Service, said that when state grants fail to come through nonprofits often have to look elsewhere for funding.
"How would you operate your life without 12 months of income?" she asked. "The nonprofit has to find other resources to be able to sustain them when the government wasn't paying them. … They didn’t know when the money was going to come."
Agencies have coped by extending their lines of credit, organizing fundraisers, furloughing staff and not filling vacant positions and doubling up on duties, she and others said. The Southern Seven Health Department administrators, for instance, combined the duties of its nursing staff that was once at 15 a few years ago into a staff of eight.
Other social service agencies were not as fortunate. The Mahoney Transitional Living home, a facility in Rosiclare for homeless ages 16 to 24 years old, succumbed to the budget fiasco, closing in February.
Planning in uncertainty
Just because legislators passed a stopgap budget did not mean money was released the next day, Gethner said.
"So oftentimes, they're having to work together to make these critical decisions about maintaining programs and staffs during a time when they are not getting reimbursed," she said.
Her agency is one of those entities — Voices for Illinois Children — that had made it their mission to track and tabulate the cost of legislators' inability to agree to a budget.
The Center for Prevention of Abuse's executive director Carol Merna said not knowing also didn't help her staff with any kind of planning. They were able to absorb 40 children served by the loss of its Safe From The Start program, which cost $10,000 a month, and seniors served by the $52,000 Self Neglect program into other programs at the facility.
That agency primarily serves clients in Peoria, Woodford and Pekin counties and serves seniors in parts of Fulton, Marshall and Toulon counties.
"We continue to root for our legislators, but compromise is a very important piece of that, and we don’t see a whole lot of compromise in the upper levels of leadership," Merna said.
1 million affected
More than 1 million people have been affected by cuts to social service agencies, ranging from those that offer mental health services and help to youth and families, according to an Associated Press report quoting a United Way source.
Gethner agreed with that assessment, noting that it's hard to come by a specific measure of the impact. She said there are 400,000 state employees, some of whose jobs have been affected. That estimate of 1 million people affected reflects the notion that about a third of those accessing human services are affected in some way.
“It’s a third of the people that are served — it’s huge," she said.