By Ashley Griffin
As part of legislation that will keep some state institutions open through the current fiscal year, the Illinois General Assembly also approved more spending for some human services programs.
With all eyes on a plan to halt state facility closures and avert 1,900 layoff, the General Assembly was able to quietly restore millions to some human services programs statewide in cash-stricken times.
Teen Parent Services, which helps low-income parents younger than 20 receive their GEDs and offers parent training classes, received $1.4 million under Senate Bill 2412.“Redeploy Illinois,” a program designed to provide services to youth 13 to 18 years old who are in the juvenile system and are at high risk of being committed to the Department of Corrections, received $2.4 million.
Legislators also allocated $1.4 million to the state’s Homeless Prevention program. Sen. Heather Steans, one of the sponsors of the bill, said that if programs to address homelessness did not receive funding now, it would lead to larger problems and costs for the state because more people would end up in emergency rooms, institutionalized and on the streets. “We were making sure it was getting maintained, not cut out completely,” said Steans, a Chicago Democrat. Senate Democrats pushed for more human services spending last summer but lost when the House and Gov. Pat Quinn refused to go along with the plan.
The Homeless Prevention program was designed to help provide rental assistance, utility assistance and supportive services to individuals and families who are at risk of being evicted or entering foreclosure on their homes. For the past five years, the program has provided counseling, job preparation and assistance with rent or security deposits. It is administered by six centers in the Chicago area and more than 75 sites statewide that aim to help families remain in their homes by offering various programs such a one-month rental-assistance program and emergency funds for families.
According to the Department of Human Service’s website, the program served more than 14,000 households in Fiscal Year 2007. The state’s economic downturn has brought a growing demand for social services and left the state climbing to the top of the nation’s largest inventory of foreclosed homes. A May 2011 RealtyTrac report showed the Chicago metropolitan area had 118,776 homes in foreclosure.
“I think there’s a lot of cold people in the street in the winter months, and homeless families have it the worst. … At the end of the day, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to make an inhuman line item to cut the program,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Democrat from Chicago. Currently, more than 14,000 Illinoisans experience homelessness each night, according to a report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Although some legislators pushed for the increase in spending for human services, a recent budget projection from Quinn revealed the state plans to spend $507 million more than it will take in during the current fiscal year. The state is also set to hit $7 billion in overdue bills to vendors — including human service providers — by the end of FY 2012. As part of the projection, Quinn called for a 9 percent cut to state spending, with the exception of education and health care, paving the way for potentially large human services cuts in FY 2013.
While Feigenholtz acknowledges that FY 2012 was a difficult budget year, she said the state must address the backlog of bills, and she predicted that the next budget could possibly send major cuts to human services. “We have to start paying our bills and stop spending,” Feigenholtz said. “As bad as last year was, it may be a walk in the park compared to this year budget.”