Budget Impasse Leaves Homeless Programs Out in the Cold
Hundreds of thousands of Illinois’ homeless and low-income residents are caught up in the eight month state budget impasse. A coalition of homeless service providers who pleaded with the governor on Friday to unlock $310 million worth of state funding say they will likely only get a small part of their wish.
The governor’s office says he would support releasing $40 million in federal pass-through money that was already slated for these programs. That money would fund development of affordable housing units. But the General Assembly has to craft a bill, pass it and send it to the governor for that to happen.
The governor’s office would not support the release of the remaining $270 million that many providers say they need before they start laying off workers and closing doors. It could literally leave the most vulnerable residents without any help.
“What won’t be funded is any of the state’s homeless programs for adults, homeless prevention programs, supportive housing programs, housing for youth, funding for rental subsidies, foreclosure prevention,” said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Dworkin notes that the money the organizations are requesting exists outside of the state’s main budget and lies in special funds that are for the sole purpose of funding these programs.
"We can't understand why the governor would choose to let these funds sit there while homeless youth are going to end up back on the streets,” she said.
Wednesday’s news comes after the homeless providers and a group of homeless youth that have gone through rehabilitative programs met with the governor. One was 22-year-old Caprice Williams.
She says she told the governor she was, until recently, pregnant and living out of her car, and says he hugged her after telling him her story. Williams lived at a nonprofit called Harmony Village, which helped treat her for depression and then placed her in a job that she says she currently holds at Walgreens.
Harmony Village could be forced to close its doors by April without state funding.
"I hope this doesn't have to close because other girls like me need to be taken care of," Williams said.
“There will be a great reduction in services now for homeless and a massive erosion of social services in our state,” Dworkin said. “I don’t know that the governor and lawmakers understand this. You can’t just instantly put it back together when the situation gets resolved. These things can’t be undone.”
The bill's house sponsor, State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, says he hasn't yet spoken to the governor about this bill. Last year, the governor and the General Assembly agreed to close a $3 billion budget partially by sweeping money out of special funds, like the one tabbed for homeless programs. The current year’s budget deficit could wind up at more than $6 billion.
"These special funds should not be [swept] and used for any other purpose than to help the most vulnerable, which is what they were intended to do," he said.
The legislature would have to pass the bill with a supermajority in both the House and the Senate. That is something that is highly unlikely to happen, despite Democrats holding a supermajority of members in both chambers.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
Feb. 19: A persistent group of nonprofit organizations that provide services to the homeless met with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday to push for his support of a bill that would unlock $310 million in state aid to fund homeless programs.
Feb. 9: The head of the state's largest social service organization says the state's ongoing budget impasse has now reached a crisis level that could impact the lives of hundreds of thousands vulnerable citizens.
Jan. 26: The state's largest social service provider is cutting programs and employees because of the state's budget impasse. We discuss these cuts – and what it means for those who rely on them – with David Novak of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; and Dan Proft of the Illinois Policy Institute.
Jan. 25: The state's oldest and largest social service agency announces it will eliminate 30 programs and 40 percent of its staff. We bring you more on this and other news out of Springfield with Amanda Vinicky.