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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:07 am

Impasse impact

Report quantifies impact of state budget stalemate while organizations pick up the pieces

PHOTO BY ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

 

The Chicago Foundation for Women recently released a report entitled “Damage done: the impact of the Illinois budget stalemate on women and children.” The report states that “lasting damage to the social service infrastructure will make serving people, especially women and children, much harder in the years to come.”

Citing a statewide backlog of bills totaling $14.7 billion, with expected late payment interest costs of approximately $800 million, the report says that “providers had to wait, on average, eight months for payment of services as the state ended Fiscal Year 2017,” citing figures provided by the Illinois Comptroller’s office.

The report points out that “women’s issues include not only access to reproductive health, but also access to affordable child care, housing availability, parent engagement, affordable health care and higher education.”

Also addressed in the report are the effects of the stalemate on MAP grants to college students as well as looming federal threats to state Medicaid funding which it says could cost Illinois $40 billion over 10 years. While some of these areas lacked funds during the budget impasse and now have an appropriation, it will still take time to get through the bill backlog.

As executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Polly Poskin is well-placed to offer a ground-level view of how state budget concerns continue to impact daily operations for state-funded organizations serving the needs of Illinois women. “The initial response after the passage of the budget was a great sense of relief,” she said, “even though it may have been accompanied by some uncertainty. It had been a very difficult two years.” Poskin said that operating in financial crisis mode shifted her organization’s focus away from its mandate to administer rape crisis centers throughout Illinois. “The biggest concern became cash flow – strategic planning moved down the ladder in terms of the amount of energy you could devote to it.”

In large part, according to Poskin, reduction in staff and staff hours had the biggest impact on ICASA’s ability to function during the two years of no state funding. The organization has 29 rape crisis centers across the state, and 32 full-time-equivalent positions were vacated and remained vacated as a result of the impasse. “Some people voluntarily left, some had reduced hours or were put on furlough and had to look for a better job in order to get the income to support themselves or their family,” Poskin said. “When you lose 32 positions across the state, it has an adverse impact on keeping the services working for the survivors as well as making necessary improvements. So that was hard.”

ICASA did receive money as part of the stopgap appropriation in early 2017, but Poskin said they were forced to use nearly 70 percent of it to address costs incurred in the previous fiscal year. “It’s not like rape crisis centers produce widgets,” she said. “We can’t decide to produce more widgets to try and increase income or lay off personnel until the economy bounces back. Instead we just have to cut people.” The worst part of losing experienced staff at rape crisis centers, she said, is the loss of expertise rape victims rely on to help stabilize their lives. Even with a restored budget, staff members with this sort of expertise are not easily replaced.

In addition, remaining staff were forced to take time away from the focus of helping women in order to work on community-based fundraising. “The fundraising became a large, looming challenge to be dealt with. Instead of building, you’re just running around patching up the biggest hole and hoping the small hole doesn’t get bigger,” said Poskin.

Another challenge faced by state-funded service organizations is that the money received each fiscal year doesn’t “roll over” to the next. “When you’ve been down-staffed and suddenly you have money, you have to start over in the hiring process and it’s just a natural delay. You have to advertise, you have to interview, if you select someone you have to give them ample time to leave their previous job – and suddenly two to three months of the new fiscal year are gone and you are in a position of maybe not spending all of the money that was awarded to you. And then you lose it.”

Poskin says she is thankful for the restored budget but there is only so much that can be done. “Do I want to go through this again? No,” she said “You can’t rip out support for two years and expect there not to be some damage done to the infrastructure. It will take time to get back to the performance level we were operating at prior to the impasse. Not only was [the stalemate] catastrophic, it’s unconscionable.”

Contact Scott Faingold at faingold@illinoistimes.com.

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