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Local

Pritchard calls for public pressure as schools, agencies face more uncertainty with no state budget

Schools, service agencies face familiar uncertainty without state budget

SPRINGFIELD – Members of Illinois’ 100th General Assembly will be sworn in Wednesday and tasked with a job that lawmakers have been unable to accomplish for a year and a half – pass a state budget for an entire fiscal year.

Funding from a half-year stopgap budget that was passed in July ended Dec. 31, once again leaving groups such as higher education and social service agencies without state dollars at the start of the year.

Although a majority of programs are still being funded through court order and continued appropriations, these services may face a difficult 2017 without state aid.

BUDGET PROPOSAL

The General Assembly was scheduled for two lame-duck sessions Monday and Tuesday. One of the topics to be discussed is a bipartisan budget proposal from Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.

Under this budget, human services would receive $740 million while higher education would receive $1.1 billion.

The proposal also includes an income tax hike, minimum wage increase, local government consolidation, pension reform, soda tax, gambling expansion and borrowing to help pay old bills.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he wasn’t confident such a proposal could pass by the end of the lame-duck session, but was hopeful it could meet House approval.

“It’s interesting that we are starting to have some activity as the leadership feels the pressure from citizens and legislators that we have to do something, and pushing the leadership to have these discussions is one of the things I’ve been encouraging,” Pritchard said. “I’m hopeful that the legislation the two senators introduce will be a starting point to induce coalescence with the speaker to address the state’s problems.”

SOCIAL SERVICES

Several human service agencies in the area have faced the sting of not having state funding last year.

Family Alliance in Woodstock was owed roughly $180,000 last year before the stopgap budget was passed, Executive Director Kim Larson said.

This forced the agency to cut four key positions and place a 90-day hold on any new clients coming in. Patients either had to wait or be placed in long-term care, which is typically around $4,000 more a month than the services provided at Family Alliance, Larson said.

After the stopgap funds were released, the agency still was owed $100,000 from the previous fiscal year.

Larson said Family Alliance may be looking at similar sacrifices by April or May.

“The burden then remains on the family if [patients] have to resort to long-term care, who would have to make the arrangements for that loved one,” Larson added. “We need to know where we stand and we are not going to jeopardize the integrity of our program.”

Hope Haven, a service provider for the homeless in DeKalb, also received half of the state dollars owed to them from fiscal 2016, or roughly $37,000, from the stopgap budget.

“We’ve had to tap into our reserves to ensure that we continue providing the programs and servicing without cuts,” Hope Haven Executive Director Lesley Wicks said. “It’s much more cost-effective to house the homeless than have them on the streets, so if we have to cut back, we would probably go to local community resources for funding.”

Wicks added that the organization relies on a very diverse source of funds, which helped to ease the cuts from last year at the state and federal level.

Fox Valley Older Adult Services in Sandwich, meanwhile, received all of the $720,000 owed from last year and is currently owed an additional $275,000 for this fiscal year, Executive Director Cynthia Worsley said.

“We’re just going to take things one day at a time, but with a payroll of $48,000 every two weeks, we can’t get along for too long,” she said.

In October 2015, the organization had to close its adult day care center in DeKalb, which has not been reopened, and had to delay paychecks.

Worsley said that about 30 percent of the FVOAS budget comes from localized contributions, such as donations, grants and senior tax levy dollars from Kendall and DeKalb counties.

“We do everything in our power to stay open and give community care service to seniors to keep them out of nursing homes and its nothing short of wondrous for these people to step in,” Worsley said.

HIGHER EDUCATION

The prolonged statemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature has greatly affected state universities, who are seeing lower attendance and an inability to fund Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students.

Northern Illinois University President Doug Baker announced last year that the school will be covering MAP grants for 4,105 low-income students in the 2016-17 school year. Kishwaukee College was unable to make the same commitment; the college saw its enrollment for the fall 2016 semester decline by 7.1 percent from the previous year.

Other programs at the college, including its adult education and transition programs, have suffered from a lack of state funding.

“Kishwaukee College has implemented many cost saving measures over the last year that are helping us during this financial uncertainty,” said college President Laurie Borowicz. “However, the longer the budget stalemate continues, the more difficult it will be for us to maintain our programs, services and College infrastructure. There are things that we have taken out of our budget to focus our expenditures on direct services to students, but we can only go so long without those resources.”

Pritchard said it is up to residents to put pressure on lawmakers to ensure schools are funded.

“There is growing pressure to do something well before May, but that again comes from how much citizen pressure will cause the system to do something,” Pritchard said. “That pressure hasn’t seemed to move the needle enough to get anything done, so there needs to be more for the sake of NIU and Kishwaukee College and not having MAP assistance.”

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