Suburban agencies see doom in new human services cuts

Suburban human services agencies lined up at Waubonsee Community College Tuesday to decry another round of funding cuts that providers said would only increase many of Illinois long-term health costs. In doing so, they learned even the state cuts the providers approve won’t help their funding woes.

The state’s Human Services Commission is hosting public forums across the state to weigh the impact of the latest state budget cuts on agencies and nonprofits that provide services to poor, elderly or disabled people or troubled youth. Service providers repeatedly referred to those individuals as the “most vulnerable” residents of society in stating their case against more funding cuts.

The state’s Department of Human Services, which funds the operations of many local providers, faces a budget cut of nearly 18 percent, or about $693 million in the new state budget.

Sheri Buttstadt works with Senior Services Associates, Inc., an agency with offices in Elgin and Aurora that helps about 26,000 senior citizens a year access government benefits. Buttstadt said funding cuts to programs that keep senior citizens in their homes will fuel a major new cost for the state.

“All those seniors will end up in a nursing home instead,” Buttstadt said. “They will go through every dime they have and then end up on public aid. That will cost you. And now with cuts to the circuit breaker program I have people come in every day who say they can’t get their medicine now. They will also end up in a nursing home or dead. Help.”

With cuts being a necessity, commission members struggled to provide any rays of hope. Service providers wouldn’t offer any suggestions about where state lawmakers can cut the budget instead of taking money away from their agencies. The one suggestion came in the form of encouraging state officials to proceed with the closure of state-run mental health centers and facilities for the developmentally disabled.

Joyce Helander, executive director of Geneva’s Day One Network, said she’s a huge supporter of closing those facilities. The Day One Network focuses on services for the developmentally disabled, serving about 3,000 people in its area.

“State facilities that are antiquated can be closed and the population equally served in their local communities if the dollars follow,” Helander said. “I hope those dollars come back into the community and not just go into the general revenue fund.”

Human Services Secretary Michelle Saddler said local service agencies shouldn’t hope to receive any of the money saved by closing state facilities.

“The law says savings from facility closures must be reinvested into the system,” Saddler said. “But if we start off with a deficit, the so-called savings does not result in additional dollars that can be reinvested in the system.”

Helander said the state has a database of about 22,000 underserved or unserved folks in need of some form of help normally provided by human service agencies. She said that shows the state is already failing to reach people even before more budget cuts will lead to reduced services.

“In our area alone we have about 1,500 people circling the airport without any place to land,” Helander said. “I know the dollars are a huge issue, but we have huge numbers of people to serve.”