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Illinois Broke, Can't Afford Social Services

By Kevin Robinson in News on Nov 19, 2009 5:20PM

2009_11_state_of_illinois.gif Amid the myriad financial problems facing the state of Illinois these days, paying for social services is one more. Both the Courier-News and the Batavia Sun profiled social services in the state - a women and children's domestic violence shelter in Elgin and a senior services group in the Fox Valley, respectively - that depend on state funding to carry out their missions. Both are struggling with covering expenses, including payroll, that the state hasn't paid for since this summer. While the Elgin Community Crisis Center was able to raise about $160,000 through community contributions, Executive Director Gretchen Vapnar knows it won't be enough to keep operating long-term.

"I don't know what's going to happen," she sighed, her hands clasped together as she sat behind her desk. "I don't know what our future holds." [snip] Agencies rely on government funding, foundation gifts and private donations, Vapnar said. The problem this year is that all three sources dried up at the same time, something she has not seen in her 34 years at the center. The crisis center has done everything it can to cut costs amid the declining revenues, even requiring employees to take a two-week unpaid furlough and cutting salaries up to 10 percent, Vapnar said.

Fox Valley Older Adult Services has fared even worse.

[Executive director Cindy] Worsley said Fox Valley Older Adult Services has burned through its reserves and is talking with banks now about extending lines of credit. And now she's faced with a dire situation -- if the state doesn't pay its bills, she'll have to take drastic measures, up to and including closing her doors.

"Our creditors don't say to us, 'It's OK, don't pay us this month,'" Worsley said. "If we don't get paid soon, and we can't get help from a bank, we'll have to shut down."

Illinois is one of 10 states facing financial peril, according to a study released by the Pew Center on the States. And without an increase in revenues, it seems unlikely that the state will be able to continue to pay for privatized social services, let alone state-operated programs. "Absent passage of House Bill 174 [which would raise the state income tax from 3 to 5 percent and increase the residential real property tax credit from 5 percent to 10 percent], we will continue to be a deadbeat state," said Democratic State Sen. Michael Noland. Unfortunately for such agencies, not everyone agrees. Republican State Rep. Tim Schmitz believes it's a matter of choice. Citing the funding Governor Pat Quinn recently granted the CTA to continue operating without hiking fares, he told the Courier-News that the state needs to decide what it wants to fund. "You cannot keep holding these social service providers hostage," he said.