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Coalition Plays The State Lottery To Save Social Services From Budget Cuts

By aaroncynic in News on Dec 15, 2015 3:20PM

Members of the Responsible Budget Coalition scratch off lottery tickets hoping to find money to pay service providers to keep them afloat during the Illinois budget crisis. Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist
A coalition unhappy with the state’s budget woes decided to try their luck at the lottery Monday to say that if Illinois can afford to pay winners, it can afford to pay social service providers. The Responsible Budget Coalition, a collection of more than 200 organizations, many of which provide or advocate for vital services for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, scratched off lottery tickets, with plans to donate any winnings to the state to pay for services still starved of funding.

“While they’re handing out millions of dollars to lottery winners, they’re shortchanging working families and communities throughout Illinois,” said William McNary of the coalition. “Our odds - to be clear they stink - but it’s the only option Springfield has left us.”

Last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that released $3.1 billion in funding, nearly $1 billion of which was earmarked for lottery winners. Illinois has been issuing IOU’s for big winners since August, and has only paid out prizes of under $600 since October. The state has gone more than six months without a budget, and could likely go without one until Spring.

McNary purchased a Powerball ticket, the results of which will be available on Wednesday. Others scratched off about a dozen tickets, racking up a grand total of $4 in winnings.

“Today, I’m only risking the loss of a couple dollars, so the stakes aren’t that high. But by failing to choose revenue and fund epilepsy services, the Governor and lawmakers are literally risking the lives of children,” said Kurt Florian, President and CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. Florian said that the Foundation has made major cuts due to the budget impasse, including a 25 percent cut in staff in Chicago, retaining only one staffer in Rockford, and shutting the doors of the Epilepsy Resource Center in Springfield.

“Governor Rauner doesn’t think people suffering from seizures are worth $10 per person in state funds...he thinks $5 is too much…he thinks $1 is too much. In fact, he doesn’t think people suffering are deserving of one cent in state funds.”

In response to the symbolic gesture by the coalition, Catherine Kelly, a spokesperson for the governor, issued a statement blaming state Democratic legislators for not passing Rauner’s proposed “Turnaround” agenda:

“The most responsible budget Illinois can have is one that is balanced, instead of the one passed by the Democratic super majority that was out-of-balance by $5 billion. Illinois’ fiscal crisis is from years of overspending and financial mismanagement that require the structural reforms the Governor has proposed.”

In response, advocates say that Rauner’s “reforms” aren’t about the budget. Charlie Hogan, a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said that programs like Meals on Wheels are suffering as well. According to Hogan site in Springfield, Alton, and DuPage County have had to cut the number of days they serve.

“I understand the idea of honoring a promise,” But these seniors were made a promise and this isn’t right," Hogan said. "They need to put aside these non-budget issues, sit down and find the revenue. It’s here.”