Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center hosted its 16th annual Town Hall Meeting on mental health care Feb. 10 at the Skokie Public Library. A panel of elected officials discussed the impact of the current political and economic climate in front of a packed room. Elected officials in attendance included State Senator Daniel Biss; State Representatives Laura Fine, Robyn Gabel, and Lou Lang; Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin; Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen; and Leslie Combs, District Director for Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

Turning Point CEO Ann Fisher Raney said, “Each year at our Town Hall Meeting, we welcome our community to this important discussion about mental health services and the political and economic factors that impact us all. This forum provides lawmakers and residents with a unique opportunity to interact, to share experiences, and to gain knowledge and perspective on the current climate locally and nationally.”

This year’s meeting covered topics ranging from the Illinois state budget crisis to effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) to concerns over new immigration laws.  The meeting, which is free to the public, attracted 230 people, more than twice the number of people last year.

“Democracy only works when people are involved,” said Commissioner Suffredin as he praised the overflow crowd for showing up.

The meeting kicked off with several questions regarding the State budget. The panel, which included only Democrats, expressed frustration with Governor Bruce Rauner’s refusal to “come to the table” to talk about the budget.

“The situation in Illinois is unconscionable,” said Sen. Biss. “We have not had a budget in over 19 months now. This is nothing a state has gone through in the history of the country, and the damage is being done.”

Sen. Biss went on to say that the situation arose because there is a fundamental dispute over what Congress should be talking about. “The Democrats want to be talking about the budget, the Governor wants to be talking about a different political agenda,” he said.

“He [Gov. Rauner] has been using the budget as a tool to try to get some agenda items that he wants,” said Rep. Lang.

Regardless of who is to blame for the Illinois budget stalemate, social services and State-funded programs are being
negatively affected.

 “Our social services are crumbling, our state universities are going downhill,” added Rep. Lang. “Every day we spend more money than we have. All of this could be remedied if the Governor would simply say ‘Let’s sit down and do the budget.’”

Rep. Gabel offered some words of encouragement. “I’m here to tell you, there are solutions to this problem. This year Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a new budget that includes some of the Governor’s reform issues that he is insisting on passing. Illinois is a great state. We are the center of transportation. We are the center of energy grids. We have so much potential on one of the Great Lakes. Once we resolve this budget, we will once again be able to grow.”

The topic shifted to concerns over several of the policies the new administration in Washington plans to enact, including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Ms. Combs did not mince words. “It would be devastating if the ACA is repealed. We must do everything we can to stop that.”

She said that 1.2 million people in Illinois alone could lose health insurance if the ACA is repealed. The repeal would most affect the poor who, she added, are disproportionately affected by mental health and substance abuse issues.

“It will take every person here and everyone who cares about this issue to fight against this repeal,” she said.

Rep. Fine went a step further, encouraging constituents to become activists by going to protests, hosting meetings, and writing postcards and emails to represent-atives. “As voters it is our responsibility to keep track of what is going on so we can keep our country on the right track,” she said.

Commissioner Suffredin addressed concerns over the “rounding up of immigrants.” He said he believes the State should join the many local governments and become a sanctuary state. He added that the City is prepared to use State’s Attorney’s offices and other offices to defend individuals who they feel have been treated unfairly.

“We have great immigration lawyers in Chicago,” he said. “It’s a matter of connecting people with lawyers who can help… No matter what the Executive Branch may think, the Judiciary Branch is our protection against ICE,” that is, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center is a non-profit outpatient mental health center serving children and adults.