The National Conference of State Legislators recently released a report naming Illinois the state with the worst budget deficit in the nation. While the report is preliminary and a handful of states such as California have yet to submit their budgets, Illinois has one of the worst state deficits heading into fiscal year 2011, which began on July 1.

The state deficit for Illinois stands at $9.136 billion as of Aug. 18. While this number seems staggering, it is even more appalling to learn that some 2,000 tax-exempt social service agencies are owed more than $490 million from the state of Illinois.

As of Aug. 16, Thrive Counseling Center (located in Oak Park) is owed $211,400 for services provided in fiscal year 2010. The state’s non payment reached its highest level in January when Thrive was owed $400,000. There are a shocking number of tax-exempt agencies owed this amount or more, including two agencies owed more than $10 million each. Visit www.illinoispartners.org/node/128 to see the full list of tax-exempt agencies and how much each agency is owed by the state of Illinois.

Gov. Quinn stated that all the tax-exempt agencies owed payments for fiscal year 2010 will be paid by the end of the 2010 calendar year, if not sooner. The process of delayed fiscal year 2011 payments, however, will only be repeated on perhaps an even larger scale. Bills and salaries in many other state-funded service areas continue to get paid while numerous tax-exempt agencies stand at risk of closure. Tax-exempt agencies did not create this financial mess for Illinois. The burden for solving it must be evenly shared by all.

The money due to Thrive and other agencies is more than simply a dollar amount. These agencies employ thousands of individuals who provide health care, social services, education and other essential services to the neediest people across Illinois. Many of these agencies have already cut staff and services, leaving them at risk of closing their doors if the money owed is not paid soon.

On behalf of Thrive Counseling Center, I encourage community residents to hold your elected officials accountable regarding the money owed to tax-exempt agencies in Illinois. The state’s inability to reimburse tax-exempt agencies in a timely manner affects agencies’ ability to carry out our missions and remain financially viable. This is an issue that must be attended to this upcoming election season. Our leaders need to take responsible measures to balance the Illinois budget, return funding owed to tax-exempt social service agencies in Illinois and reimburse these agencies in fiscal year 2011 in a timely and responsible manner.

• Daniel Kill is the president and CEO of Thrive Counseling Center, a community mental health center serving Oak Park and the surrounding areas for over 112 years.

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