Eight months into a state budget impasse, students and senior citizens are feeling the negative impact of the state government’s inability to come up with a budget that appeases both sides of the aisle.
Recently, potential school closures joined the headlines related to the impasse. The list of state-funded schools includes Chicago State University (CSU) Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University to name a few. Paris Griffin, president of the Student Government Association at CSU, as well as other students, has demonstrated and marched to bring attention to the issue, and for Griffin it goes farther than just ensuring the school remains open.
“I’m a senior, I have one year left. I won’t be able to start over — schools don’t usually accept students who are seniors,” Griffin said. “If this school closes my scholarships are gone. People think this is just a problem at CSU but it’s Eastern, it’s Governor’s State. Some schools have a semester or two and they can wait it out, but they’re in trouble. We’re all in trouble.”
Comptroller Leslie Munger said Feb. 2 that Illinois is on track to sink $6.2 billion more in debt while budget negotiations continue. Gov. Bruce Rauner, as well as the Democrat-led legislature in Springfield, have come up with a few solutions, but since they’re on opposing sides no agreement has been made.
Legal and financial maneuvers have kept many institutions, including CSU and Illinois State University, open for the time being, but as the months and deficits accrue so do anxieties about the future. The same maneuvers have also helped groups like Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, or the LSSI, and member organizations of the Illinois Association of Community Action Associations, or IACCAA, but program and staff cuts have deeply affected the communities they serve, largely elderly and largely working class.
Christine Westerlund, director of IACCAA, said that the leaders need to “sit down and be thoughtful (about this), and act as quickly as possible to fix this.”
The elderly in largely rural communities, who are served by programs included under the umbrella of IACCAA, are seeing a reduced presence of staff, as well as amenities like meals and time with staff members. Other organizations under that umbrella, which offer child care or support services like it for low income or working families, have also been cut.
“We’re doing the best we can, but some organizations have had to shut down programs or reduce hours and staff,” Westerlund said. “This isn’t just about (the association). Some people are forced to quit their jobs and that deepens the cycle of poverty.”
Program and staff cuts and general malaise with the state government have been widespread. As of January, 85 percent of organizations reported that they made cuts to their clientele for reasons related to the budget, up from 34 percent in July, the start of the gridlock — 84 percent made cuts to staff. Among respondents, programs for adult education were the most cut at 34 percent for this year (it was cut at a rate of 7 percent in July). Examining the flow of money and the impact the lack of a budget led to many decisions and layoffs, but as cash reserves run out cuts may continue.
“It’s been a very challenging and difficult process. The state owes us more than $6 million and we continue to accrue money,” Barb Hailey, media director of LSSI, said. “There’s no way anyone could have foreseen that this would go on as long as it has, and we’ve had to examine the flow of money and the impact this has had.”
LSSI, like many others, has had to cut down on the services it provides, which the state is supposed to reimburse them for. Without that money, the number options for the communities they serve are limited. Even when a budget is announced they may not be able to bring back the programs lost in limbo.
For students like Griffin, the demonstrations will continue until those in Springfield come up with a budget that funds not only their school, but others in similar situations.
“They’ve gotten college educations without obstacles like these, so I think it’s unfair that they’re creating this mess,” she said. “They’re blocking our futures.”