PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday July 1st, 2015, 2:51pm

Illinois Social Service Supporters Rally For A State Budget Settlement (VIDEO)

Illinois social service supporters took to the Thompson Center in Chicago Wednesday morning to rally for a resolution on a state budget with adequate funding for vital programs.

Hundreds of Illinois social service supporters rallied outside the Thompson Center Wednesday morning, urging Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers to break the budget impasse and choose revenue over cuts to vital programs and services.

The large crowd yelled, "Gov. Rauner have some guts! You can stop the budget cuts!"

Illinois entered the new fiscal year Wednesday without a spending plan. Rauner and Democratic leaders remain at odds over how to plug a more than $6 billion budget hole. As a result, those at today's demonstration said services for many Illinoisans are in a state of limbo.

Andy Wade, a spokesman for Metropolitan Family Services, said about 40 percent of the Chicago-area family service provider's budget comes from contracts with the state.

"We do everything from child care to senior services," he told Progress Illinois at the rally. "Much of that work is in the wait and see when you will be paid."

Due to the state's budget situation, Metropolitan Family Services has already had to discontinue its Teen REACH after school services and school-based mental health and substance abuse prevention programs for youth, Wade said. Uncertainty around funding for psychiatric care grants could also force Metropolitan Family Services to lay off doctors and nurses at its mental health practice.

"As of today, we still have the doctors. We don't know how we're going to pay for them," Wade said.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) was also among the organizations at the rally and "walk out."

Rauner has "issued a statement saying without a new state budget, funding for immigrant services and several other line items are being explicitly suspended," explained ICIRR spokesman Fred Tsao. "Many of us have walked out of our agencies to be here and to show the governor that we need this funding to continue. We need a resolution to the budget."

ICIRR joined dozens of organizations and social service providers, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice--Chicago, Communities United, Korean American Community Services and Mujeres Latinas in Accion, in sending a letter to Rauner and legislative leaders today, requesting that they approve progressive revenue measures to help tackle the state's fiscal problems.

"We believe investing in children, families, and communities is the best thing we can do to propel our state toward economic prosperity. That's why members of the General Assembly and the governor must choose to develop new revenue instead of cutting services that make Illinois families and communities strong," the letter reads. "There are a broad range of progressive revenue options that policymakers can choose to avoid cuts to essential services, including income tax reform and having businesses pay their fair share."

The Grassroots Collaborative also signed onto the letter.

"Today we say to the governor: Stop holding our communities hostage. You're Turnaround Agenda's bad for working families," Grassroots Collaborative's Executive Director Amisha Patel told the crowd. "It's time to talk revenue. We can fund the budget we need by asking everyone to pay their fair share."

The stalemate over the state's 2016 fiscal year budget has been going on for months.

Rauner proposed a spending plan with no new revenue and cuts to a host of budgetary items. He has been calling on lawmakers to adopt various items on his controversial Turnaround Agenda, including workers' compensation reforms and a property tax freeze. 

Democrats, who have described Rauner's proposals as extreme, passed a spending plan containing fewer cuts. They have been hoping that they could negotiate with Rauner on new revenues. 

Last week, however, the governor vetoed all but one component of the legislative spending plan, signing only a budget bill for K-12 and early education funding. In vetoing the larger Democrat-approved budget, Rauner cited the $4 billion shortfall and called on lawmakers to pass a scaled back list of his "structural reforms."  

Democrats have now put forward a one-month stopgap spending plan that would cover certain vital services. Lawmakers could vote on the legislation Wednesday, but it's likely that Rauner would veto the temporary budget if it were to pass.

While lawmakers continue to tussle over the budget, Will Wilson, who is living with AIDS, stressed that his health is in jeopardy as a result of the impasse. Wilson is among thousands of Illinoisans who rely on the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

The program, which according to Wilson has been impacted as a result of there being no budget in place, helps people living with HIV or AIDS pay for their medications. Wilson's current supply of medication will run out in mid-July. Without assistance, Wilson said his prescription drugs would cost him about $3,200 per month.

"If I didn't have assistance, there's no way that I could afford that," he told Progress Illinois. "If they do not resolve this [budget dispute], I don't know what I'm going to do come July 16 ... I'm not a bargaining chip. I'm a live human being. And you're playing with my health."

Here's more from Wilson plus other scenes from today's rally:



Michael Grice, who previously lived in a nursing home and recently transitioned to community-based home care, also spoke out at the rally.

"I love my apartment in Lakeview, but this governor is trying to put me back in prison," Grice said, referring to the nursing home in which he previously lived.

Grice, who uses a motorized wheelchair, said he's concerned that possible budget cuts could result in him losing his personal care assistants who help him live independently. 

"We are not a number," Grice said. "We are human beings, and we deserve to live where we want."


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