Latino advocates demand Springfield resolve the budget crisis

Latino advocates urge Illinois leaders to choose revenue and adopt a fair, adequate and fully-funded budget on Wednesday. Photo by Alex V. Hernandez.
Latino advocates urge Illinois leaders to choose revenue and adopt a fair, adequate and fully-funded budget on Wednesday. Photo by Alex V. Hernandez.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he laughter of children enrolled at Erie Neighborhood House’s early childhood education program could be heard on Wednesday morning. Located at 1347 W. Erie Street, the community service agency primarily assists low-income immigrant Latino families in Chicago.

As children played outside nonprofit service providers and families held a press conference at Erie to demand state officials resolve the budget crisis before layoffs and more service reductions become reality.

“I want to make a declaration to the governor and to every state official and everyone in this room. We are crying out that we need these services,” said Lakena Fultz, an African-American single mother with two children who was homeless before she was helped by La Casa Norte’s housing program. “Because of La Casa Norte I was able to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. This program has helped myself and my sons tremendously.”

Almost two weeks into the new fiscal year and the state is still without a fully funded budget, leaving service providers like Erie and La Casa Norte suffering as their state funding starts to run out.

“I’m scared, not really for myself but for my staff and mostly for my clients,” said Beatriz Albelo, a program coordinator at La Casa Norte’s supportive housing program. “Now some of our staff may become our clients because they won’t have jobs.”

La Casa Norte projects letting 40 full and part-time staff go because of state funding issues. Meanwhile Brian Paff, a marketing communications manager at Erie, says his agency is looking at the possibility of 10 layoffs. He also said that due to cost-cutting measures Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered into effect July 1, Erie has turned away 26 families applying for the state’s child care subsidy because they don’t currently qualify under the new income threshold, which was lowered from to $43,000 to $13,000 a year for a family of four.

“We serve about 5,000 people each year. Where things are at right now, we’re looking at 1,000 people who will lose access to the services that we provide,” said Paff. “We have a lot of families that are being used as political pawns in this process and that’s just unacceptable.”

Silvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, said a reduction of services at organizations like Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc., which works to address the state’s heroin epidemic, will lead to deaths.

“People will die. These are not frivolous costs,” said Puente.

On Wednesday afternoon the Illinois Senate approved a one-month emergency spending plan. Gov. Rauner had until Aug. 1 to approve or kill the bill. He vetoed it.

“Today I veto Senate Bill 51 from the 99th General Assembly, one of several budget implementation bills, in order to protect Illinois taxpayers from an unbalanced and unconstitutional budget,” said Rauner in a statement. “The General Assembly’s budget makes spending promises that exceed available revenues by nearly $4 billion. I therefore vetoed that budget and am today vetoing its accompanying budget implementation bills.”

The governor’s statement went onto say he was asking the General Assembly to be “a partner in enacting a balanced budget, structural reforms inside government, and economic reforms that stimulate our economy and bring new jobs to Illinois.”

With the exception for an education bill Gov. Rauner signed the state has been without a budget since July 1. And he’s vetoed the remainder of the budget bills sent to him by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

After the budget vote, the Senate pivoted to successfully overriding the governor’s vetoes of five other bills, dealing with the funding of various state agencies. These motions came a week after the House endorsed them in an effort to keep “essential services” like the Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Labor, and Department of Public Health, and the Department of Family and Children Services funded.

The House now has 15 days to consider also voting to override these same vetoes.

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