State budget impasse sending nonprofits, clients on ‘death march’
By Dean Olsen, Staff Writer
Posted Aug. 4, 2015 at 7:22 PM
Updated at 9:44 PM
The Autism Program has stopped accepting low-income children into its diagnostic and
treatment programs in Springfield, while the Illinois Tobacco Quitline is preparing to shut
down for the second time in less than five months — all because of the state budget
The two not-for-profit organizations, both based in Springfield, were among more than a
dozen such Illinois groups that used a Capitol news conference Tuesday to explain how
bickering among the state’s top politicians has left them and their clients slipping into a
financial and emotional abyss.
“I would best describe this as a death march,” said Al Riddley, a board member from
Illinois Partners for Human Service, which serves 850 groups statewide.
Officials from the groups said layoffs and the shutdown of services will begin to crest in the
next month or two unless there’s a resolution to the standoff between Republican Gov.
Bruce Rauner and the Democratically controlled General Assembly.
The current impasse is part of a multi-year erosion of state funding for agencies that assist
mostly low-income families, Riddley said.
“You are known by your actions,” he said. “Perhaps it’s time to change our state motto from
‘Land of Lincoln’ to ‘We Don’t Care?’”
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, a key advocate for human services programs in the
legislature, said at the news conference that many parts of state government have continued
to receive funding despite the lack of a comprehensive state budget for the fiscal year that
began July 1.
For example, spending on elementary and secondary education, Medicaid services and
some services for the mentally ill and disabled has continued or is likely to continue because
of court orders and successful legislation, she said.
Many human services, however, are part of the 18 percent of the state’s general revenue
fund budget — representing $7 billion annually — that isn’t being spent because of the
impasse, she said.
Steans said the state is being a “horrible” partner with these agencies, many of which can’t
afford to go months without payment and face losing hard-to-replace staff.
“We are putting at risk that whole infrastructure, and it’s not easily put back in place,” she
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly wrote in an email that the governor “is concerned
about the impacts of the budget impasse, but structural changes are needed within state
government to free up resources to help the most vulnerable and grow the economy.”
Rauner “has continued to try to compromise,” Kelly said. But she said House Speaker
Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, “continues to block reforms.”
Madigan has said Rauner’s reforms, which include weakening the influence of unions and
changing the workers’ compensation system, are extreme and would hurt middle-class
Without a startup in state funding, the Quitline, operated by the American Lung Association,
will close and its 27 employees will lose their jobs at the end of August, spokeswoman Kathy
The Quitline is funded each year with several million dollars from $250 million the state
receives each year from tobacco companies as part of a court settlement. The free service,
which helps smokers kick the habit, closed down for four weeks this spring as part of a fiscal
2015 state funding shortfall.
Drea noted that Illinois spends almost $2 billion in its Medicaid program on health care for
“You want to ‘shake up Springfield?’” Drea asked, repeating one of the governor’s campaign
slogans. “More money should be spent to help smokers quit and to keep kids from starting to
use tobacco products.”
The Autism Program, which would see all $4.3 million of its annual state funding evaporate
under Rauner’s budget proposal, stopped accepting new clients for subsidized services at
its Springfield site because of the lack of funding in the new fiscal year, TAP state network
director Russell Bonanno said.
Layoffs already have taken place at agencies in Charleston, Rockford and Chicago that
partner with the The Autism Program to provide services to developmentally disabled
youngsters and their families, Bonanno said.
The support staff in Springfield has been taking one furlough day each week since July 1,
and layoffs there probably will begin by the end of September, he said.
“The impact is today, the impact is tomorrow, and the impact will go on for years,” Bonanno
said. “The budget needs to be passed. There needs to be adequate funding for all human
services and most especially for autism services.”
One southern Illinois agency serving battered women closed Friday, and another in
southeastern Illinois will close its shelter by the end of this month, said Vickie Smith, chief
executive officer of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In Springfield, Sojourn Shelter and Services hasn’t had to reduce services yet but will make
plans Friday for what could be cut and when, chief executive officer Angela Bertoni told The
Senate Bill 2042, which passed the Senate on Tuesday and is headed to the House and
has Rauner’s support, would benefit Sojourn because some of the $4.8 billion in federal
funding the bill appropriates would go to nonprofits serving victims of domestic violence.
But most of Sojourn’s $1.3 million annual budget is funded with state grants, Bertoni said.
The agency employs 31 people and serves more than 6,000 people each year through its
Springfield shelter, counseling program and court services in five area counties, Bertoni
“We’re closely monitoring what we’re spending,” she said. “At this point, we’re praying
someone comes to an agreement soon.”
Local public health departments throughout the state have begun to lay off staff and
downsize services, said Tom Hughes, executive director of the Illinois Public Health
But Jim Stone, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, who
wasn’t at the news conference, said his department, with its $8.9 million annual budget,
hasn’t had to make cuts yet.
“We can hopefully withstand situations like this that are more difficult for smaller institutions
to absorb,” Stone said.
John Markley, chief executive officer of Centerstone, a nonprofit in southern Illinois that
serves people with substance abuse, mental illness and developmental disabilities, said cuts
that already are stressing families may have to result in deaths before politicians act.
“As we talk about the impact on the people, it just seems like we’re standing before the
cameras … and nobody hears,” he said. “I wish that you could know the pain that we see,
and frankly, the blood that is going to be on the sidewalks should this go on another month.”
— Dean Olsen can be reached at email@example.com, 788-1543,
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423