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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010 01:46 am

Late state payments decimate social services

Projected 52,000 social service jobs lost

Delayed state payments to schools and service providers threaten to overwhelm Illinois’ social safety net, say a pair of reports released in early December. The reports highlight the loss of thousands of jobs in education and social services, leading to vastly reduced services to children, the disabled, the elderly and the homeless.

Illinois Partners for Human Services, a coalition of social service providers that contract with the state, surveyed 282 service providers in Illinois and found that 49 percent had cut staff due to late payments or nonpayment by the state.

Judith Gethner, director of Illinois Partners, says the late payments are a two-fold problem for Illinois. Staff cuts raise unemployment numbers, she says, while service cuts cause more people to wind up in jails and emergency rooms, where the state still foots the bill – but at a higher cost per person.

“We’re a major employer that can’t outsource our work,” Gethner says. We’re not like some organizations or companies that may decide to outsource to save money. If you cut our numbers in a community, the ripple effect is such that there’s a direct hit to employment and the people we are serving.”

The average Illinois service provider cut staff by 13 percent, according to the survey, and in a sector that employs 400,000 people statewide, that means about 52,000 layoffs.

In the south central region of the state, which includes Springfield, 52 percent of providers had cut staff, with an average reduction of 14 percent.

Of the 36 providers from the south central region that responded to the survey, 53 percent said they had reduced their hours of operation or level of services, while 25 percent had to put more people on waiting lists for services. Thirty-nine percent closed some of their programs completely, and 22 percent had to refer clients to other providers, with no guarantee they would be served. The 36 responding providers served a median of 3,485 people each last year.

“It hasn’t really been big news in the papers because it’s not hitting 52,000 people all at once,” Gethner says. “Imagine if a business were to announce laying off 20,000 people. It would be a disaster. This has happened on a bigger scale, but it’s been in dribs and drabs, so it hasn’t gotten as much attention.”

Voices for Illinois Children painted a similarly stark picture recently while testifying to the Illinois State Board of Education’s Finance and Audit Committee, saying 2,600 children have lost preschool opportunities due to late state payments. The group, a nonpartisan coalition of children’s advocates, says 40 Illinois school districts and community-based providers have closed their preschool programs in the past year. But that’s only part of the picture, the group says, adding that payments last year were slashed by 10 percent.

“These pre-k closure figures don’t include other, non-teaching school professionals who’ve been pushed out of work by closures,” the group’s testimony says. “They don’t count dozens more birth-to-three programs that also have closed, taking more services from at-risk infants and toddlers and jobs from their providers. And, they don’t even count the effects of schools and providers who, instead of shutting-down entirely, simply eliminated a classroom or two and displaced still other children, teachers and other professionals.”

Voices for Illinois Children supports a tax increase and more tax credits and exemptions, saying the alternative is more young students losing educational opportunities.

“A disproportional number of those students will struggle academically, require more expensive and remedial help, drop out of school, fail to find gainful employment and fall short of helping Illinois’ workforce to grow strong and our communities to prosper,” the group says.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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