Lutheran Social Services cuts 30 programs due to state budget

An array of social services - from suburban drug and mental health services to help for homebound senior citizens - were shuttered Friday and staff members laid off because Illinois has failed to pay the provider during a budget standoff that soon will enter its eighth month.

Officials at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, based in Des Plaines, announced it closed more than 30 programs throughout the state and eliminated 750 jobs on Friday. The programs have been operating without payment from the state at a cost to the agency of close to $6.5 million.

About 4,700 clients will lose services, agency officials said. The reduction in workforce amounts to about 43 percent of the agency's employees.

"This is something we've dealt with in the past and it comes down to being wily with our own budget, but never to this extent," Lutheran Social Services of Illinois spokeswoman Barb Hailey said. "We just can't provide these services anymore, so we've eliminated spending that's linked to nonpayment of services."

It's unlikely these programs will be resurrected when or if the state passes a budget and restores funding, she said.

"We have no guarantee of getting that money back," Hailey said.

Lutheran Social Services has relied on a line of credit and other resources from its foundation to compensate for the lack of state funding, CEO Mark Stutrud said.

Six drug and alcohol residential rehabilitation programs offered by the agency in Elgin and Chicago will close. Mental health counseling programs offered in Des Plaines, Elmhurst, Downers Grove, Prospect Heights, Wheaton and Villa Park are being shut down as well.

A "respite service" program for veterans and their families based in Streamwood is also closing, according to a news release issued by agency officials.

Illinois hasn't had the authority to pay many bills since July 1 as Gov. Bruce Rauner and top Democrats have fought over the budget. Rauner has asked lawmakers to approve some of his pro-business proposals in conjunction with the budget, an idea many Democrats have rejected.

"Gov. Rauner is frustrated by the lack of action in Springfield," spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. "He stands ready to work with the General Assembly to pass structural reforms along with a balanced budget so we can adequately fund social services and protect the most vulnerable."

Democratic state Sen. Dan Biss, an Evanston Democrat, called Friday's news a "disaster."

"There is no long-term gain to be found in destroying Illinois' network of human services, yet that is exactly what is happening now," he said. "This is a disaster."

Programs that assist homebound seniors, most of them downstate, are also taking a significant hit. Hailey said most of the money the agency is owed by the state is for operation of those programs. While the agency receives some reimbursement through Medicaid, it's not nearly enough to keep the programs afloat any longer.

Some lawmakers have clamored in recent months to win approval for small budget proposals to rescue programs in varying degrees of crisis since officials blew their budget deadline.

In December, Democrats and Republicans joined to send money to lottery winners and mayors desperate for their share of gasoline taxes and gambling money, but other efforts have stalled.

Some colleges and universities have threatened tuition hikes or even eventual closure to deal with the lack of a state budget.

Because Rauner signed Democrats' education budget, though, schools opened as planned in the fall. Court orders have kept state workers' paychecks going out and money flowing for people with disabilities.

However, some critics say those decisions have helped take the pressure off Rauner and Democrats to cut a deal and end the stalemate.

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