Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law last Wednesday night a $26 billion state budget that reduces funding to many of the state’s social service programs: a course of action Quinn had tried to avoid by pushing for an income tax hike.

Meeting in special session, lawmakers in the House and Senate passed the budget – which is balanced thanks to $3.5 billion borrowed to pay off pension obligations – with a certain amount of reluctance. Some view it as a temporary solution to the looming deficit, which is estimated at $7 billion to $12 billion.

“We haven’t generated any revenue,” State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) said. “I predict in six months we’ll be back at this.”

There is enough money in the current budget to allocate 86 percent of the funding that was previously provided to social service programs. However, Quinn’s agency directors will more than likely be distributing state funds on a case-by-case basis, a situation that may require not-for-profits to compete with one another for their fair share of the pie.

Although the current plan is an improvement over the 50-percent slash in funding to social services that lawmakers had previously proposed, many organizations feel as though they are not entirely home free.

“We thought that by giving it to the executive branch, he’d do the right thing,” State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7th) said, “and the agency directors could make the decisions as to where to make cuts.”

State Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th) estimated the state is $1.5 billion short of meeting agency requests. Consequently, when giving social service groups state money, Quinn’s staff will carefully study “which programs are most valuable, and which are performing up to par,” Harmon said.

West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Defend Shelter) – a Maywood-based non-profit for the homeless – relies on the Illinois Department of Human Services for about 3 percent of its overall budget. The state’s current plan would wipe out the agency’s homeless prevention program. That effort provides financial assistance to those on the verge of losing their homes, and to qualifying individuals leaving the shelter in search of a home.

“It’s craziness,” Lynda Schueler, executive director for PADS, said, “especially when so many people are losing their homes.”

PADS would also see reductions in the $38,000 emergency food and shelter grant it receives from the state.

Cicero-based Seguin Services – which specializes in helping those with developmental disabilities – receives 84 percent of its funding from the state. Seguin has adapted to the state’s budget cuts through layoffs, the restructuring of staff positions, and a reduction in services.

Their supported employment program, which, at one point, put approximately 160 people to work for about 70 businesses in roughly 50 communities, would be forced to stop serving 27 clients. This program was Seguin’s hardest hit, as they have already been stripped of a $340,000 grant from DHS, according to Seguin officials.

Twenty-five staff positions have been restructured or eliminated in Seguin’s attempt to operate within the cuts.

Hephizibah Children’s Association in Oak Park, which provides a number of child-related services, had to take a similar route and cut two staff positions as well because of a reduction in DHS dollars.

Mary Anne Brown, Hephzibah Children’s Association executive director, stated the organization is “assessing” its own budget every day in an effort to continue providing services at an appropriate level.

One small saving grace is the federally mandated contracts that will fund Hephzibah’s child services at the 2009 level.

Now organizations are making much more of an effort to seek alternative sources of funding in the wake of the state’s budget woes.

The money is coming in the form of federally mandated dollars, private donations, and local and county funding.

“We’re really depending on the community,” Brown said.

“We have put a much stronger emphasis on acquiring additional revenues from sources other than the state, although we still have to direct a lot of advocacy on acquiring funding from the state of Illinois,” said Jim Haptonstahl, senior vice president for Seguin Services.

Moving forward, though, and functioning within these cuts could be difficult for many organizations.

“Other agencies have gone through self-assessment and said, ‘What can we do to get additional money to provide the basic level of service?’ ” Haptonstahl said. “That is fundamental.”

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