Quick Hit La Risa Lynch Wednesday May 13th, 2015, 7:13pm

Chuy Garcia: Grassroots Movement Must Shift Focus On State’s Financial Woes

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia urged those attending a teach-in on the state's budget to use the grassroots momentum gained from the city's hotly-contested mayoral race as a means to combat austerity measures that could adversely impact vulnerable communities.

The Cook County Commissioner forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a historic runoff when Emanuel failed to get the votes needed to secure an outright win in February's municipal election. Garcia lost to Emanuel in the April runoff by 12.4 percentage points.

Garcia spoke at the teach-in held at the McKinley Park Branch Library, 1915 W. 35th St. The McKinley Park Progressive Alliance hosted the event.

"This mayoral election was one of the most contested in recent history ... and one that has created space for community groups to be active in and for different movements to amply their voices and exert some influence and power," Garcia said.

That influence and power, he said, is needed in the coming weeks as the state legislature tries to close a $6 billion budget shortfall before the legislative session ends May 31. Rauner is pushing for $300 million in spending reductions, including $106 million in cuts to state Medicaid reimbursements, a 31 percent decrease in higher education spending and  $419,300 reduction in funding for domestic violence shelters.

Garcia said grassroots organizations and community groups need to use their voices to collectively advocate for policies that protect against social service cuts and the continued privatization of public institutions and resources.

"There are a lot of communications in Springfield and that's when danger is the greatest for the most vulnerable in Illinois -- when the legislature leaders and the governor can cut a deal to the determent of folks who have the least influence, the least power, the least clout," Garcia said Monday night.

Disability rights advocate Roman Canellada agrees. He said Rauner's budget cuts are chipping away at the rights the disability community fought for in the 1970s and 1980s, which eventually led to the passage of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990.

"At this point with Rauner, we are going backwards," he said. "Instead of people with disabilities being integrated in the community, we are just going back into the institutions -- the clinical model that we refuse to live by."

Canellada, who uses a wheelchair and works at Schwab Rehabilitation Center, said people with disabilities have seen services diminish over the years. He said schools no longer offer physical, speech and occupational therapy for schoolchildren in need of such services. And cuts to the paratransit program make it harder for those with disabilities to live independently, he noted.

Rauner's budget plan slashes more than $160 million from CTA, Metra and Pace budgets, including eliminating $8.5 million for paratransit services, which provides door-to-door services for seniors and people with disabilities.

"Right now, people are paying $3" for a paratransit ride, Canellada said. "Now they are talking about people paying $5 a ride. If you are on a fixed income of $750 a month and you pay rent and [are] not on subsidized housing, you can't go to school or any other type of events. So we are being affected."

Community groups are also still be affected by Rauner's Good Friday budget cuts service even after the funds were restored. On April 3, Rauner slashed $26 million in state grants that funded a range of programs from indigent burial services, epilepsy treatment and youth drug prevention to immigration services.

The cuts were reversed three weeks later when the Rauner's administration announced an unexpected windfall of about $500 million in income tax revenue

Many social service agencies cut staff or eliminated programs based on the Good Friday cuts. Kristina Tendilla, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said Chinatown's biggest employer, Chinese American Service League (CASL), is one such program.

The agency cut five programs, laid off staff and could face more cuts as the legislature hammers out a budget for fiscal year 2016, Tenilla said. Many of these programs serve youth and the cuts leave them with no resources to keep them off the streets and away from violence, she added.

"We've never seen cuts like this before," Tendilla said, noting that other programs are adopting a fee-for-service model or consolidating with other nonprofits to weather future budget cuts.

Enlace Chicago, a Little Village community development group, began collaborating with other Southwest Side nonprofits to provide legal and immigrant services to mitigate future budget cuts.

"We realize that there is a lot of dependency on the funding that's available now, which doesn't meet all the needs of the people we service," said Lulu Martinez, of Enlace Chicago, where Garcia served as the founding executive director. "Even if the funding was reinstated or provided for the next fiscal year, we know this is a risk we are taking as nonprofits to not have the funding again."

Consultant Valerie Leonard said nonprofits, especially smaller ones, are bearing the brunt of Rauner's cuts. That, she said, impacts the amount of available jobs and services provided to the community.

In North Lawndale, where Leonard lives, 25 percent of the community's workforce is part of the nonprofit sector, compared to the 8 percent statewide, she noted. Mt. Sinai Hospital Medical Center is the biggest employer for both North Lawndale and McKinley Park, according to Leonard. The nonprofit hospital relies on state funding, including Medicaid, which accounts for 38 percent of the hospital's medical reimbursement, she explained.

"Clearly, we are disproportionately dependent upon the state," Leonard said. "I think what we are seeing here under Gov. Rauner is he is causing a consolidation of the nonprofit industry across several sectors."


How are all of these proposals going to be paid for?

It's a matter of priorities. Everything we discussed was in the budget before the Governor cut them. He chosed cuts in social services as opposed to anything business related. That's his prerogative.  It should be noted that tax revenues are coming in at higher levels than anticipated and the Governor has still decided to renege on agreements that were made with nonprofit contractors. 

No one questions that adjustments need to be made. We need greater efficiencies and to prioritize our spending in an equitable and humane way.

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