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Quiet consternation was reflected in the faces of the crowd of nearly 200 that gathered in downtown Evanston on June 23 to protest what has been termed the State’s “Doomsday Budget” – cuts of at least 50 percent in social-service funding.
Unless Governor Patrick Quinn can convince enough legislators to raise the state income tax, it is likely that most safety nets for Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens will be gone.
Many agencies in Evanston and elsewhere have already received notice from the Illinois Department of Human Services that funding for many of their programs would be cut in half. Targets of many of these cuts are counseling and prevention programs for substance abuse and domestic violence, youth programs, direct-care programs and childcare and early education programs.
Legislators were summoned to Springfield yesterday to address budgetary issues and a possible increase in income taxes. At the same time, directors, clients and supporters of many of Evanston’s social service agencies demonstrated in front of the Evanston offices of State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg and State Representative Julie Hamos, asking for Sen. Schoenberg’s support of the proposed tax increase and thanking Rep. Hamos for her support.
Karen Singer is executive director of the Evanston/North Shore YWCA, which operates the only shelter in the area for battered women and their children. She said about $330,000 was cut from their domestic violence programs – “about a quarter of the funding.”
In an earlier interview with the RoundTable Ms. Singer said, “In a typical year we provide services to about 200 women and children, and we turn away about 1,200. … Were we to have to close, I don’t know where women would go. … This is potentially a devastating situation for women and kids in a violent situation.” If funding to other similar agencies is likewise cut, she said, “There will be fewer places to refer people. These are women in danger for their lives. … It’s a life-and-death situation for some.”
Don Baker, director of Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.), told the RoundTable the loss of funding for youth services could cause Y.O.U. to eliminate some employees (Y.O.U. has 20 full-time equivalent employees) or close some programs in one of its five centers.
Kate Mahoney of PEER Services, which provides substance-abuse prevention and counseling, said “We are losing about 45 percent of our treatment funding. … This dramatically decreases what [services] we can provide.”
Jessie Macdonald, a member of the board of Connections for the Homeless, said, “We are poised to lose all of our prevention funding. It’s a travesty – cutting a program that works to prevent homelessness. … I don’t understand why [the cuts] are zeroing in on prevention programs, when it will cost so much later on [to help people] with on-the-street care, hospitalizations and the like.”
Patricia Vance, executive director of CEDA/Neighbors at Work, said she attended the rally because, “I support human services. I’m against any cuts that impact human services.”
Martha Arntson, executive director of Childcare Network of Evanston told the RoundTable that legislators may reduce the pool of those eligible to receive state childcare subsidies by changing the eligibility requirements. At present, families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty-level income are eligible. That amount may be decreased to 50 percent of the poverty-level, effectively eliminating childcare subsidies for the working poor, she said. “At that rate a family of one parent and one child can earn only about $7,000 per year. That puts people out of business,” she added.
Marybeth Schroeder, senior program officer of Evanston Community Foundation, said she attended the rally even though no ECF funds are at risk. “ECF has supported early childhood programs and we are totally concerned about the proposed cuts in childcare and early childhood education. … We know that if families at risk receive home visits and they have access to quality childcare and early education, their children will do better in school and in the workforce.”
Bill Geiger, executive director of the McGaw YMCA, said cuts to childcare funding “would be devastating” to about 60 families in the McGaw Y’s childcare programs.
The demonstration in Evanston was one of several that were taking place statewide, including in Springfield.
Mr. Baker said to the crowd, which moved peacefully from 820 Davis St. to Fountain Square, “We won’t back away. A state with budget cuts like these is not the kind of state we want to live in.”