Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Friday September 25th, 2015, 11:18am

Chicago Soup Kitchen Sees Uptick Of Those In Need, Leaders Blame Ongoing Budget Standoff (VIDEO)

A soup kitchen on Chicago's North Side says they've seen an uptick in the number of individuals depending on their free meals since the state's budget impasse started nearly three months ago.

On Thursday, representatives from the kitchen joined with state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and other nonprofits to call for an end to the standoff and urge lawmakers to fully fund the services Illinois' most vulnerable citizens depend upon.

"A lot of the folks that come to the community kitchen rely on services that are being slashed, so they have to come here," said Rev. Marilyn Pagan Banks, executive director of A Just Harvest, which serves free meals every day to people in need at 7649 N. Paulina St. in the Rogers Park neighborhood.

Pagan-Banks said that, within the last 30 days, A Just Harvest has seen a 10 percent increase in families - from 30 families to 40 families with households of three or more - receiving meals at the kitchen.

She said the budget impasse is largely to blame for the uptick because the state is not authorized to spend money on various social service programs without a budget in place. Although court orders or federal dollars are funding many services, numerous providers are facing layoffs, program reductions and pending closures.

"They're saying there's a budget crisis, so people are losing services or not getting paid, and what does that mean? That means they need more services, they need more help," said Pagan-Banks. "The very thing that Rauner says he's trying to change, he's actually making it worse."

She added that A Just Harvest is "fortunate" because it doesn't depend on state funding.

Legislation that would authorize state spending for human service programs, which was passed by the Senate earlier this month and would fund payments for community and mental health programs, was approved by the Illinois House Executive Committee on Thursday. The full House has not voted on the bill, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has warned he will veto the legislation.

"We know that we have folks in Springfield who are trying to see who can hold out the longest (during the budget impasse)," Pagan-Banks said. "I wonder, and I know, that they're not worrying about where their next meal is coming from, they're not lining up to come to the community kitchen, they're not having to tell People's Gas, 'I didn't get paid this week so I can't pay you,' so we have to remind them that these political games are being played on the backs of our communities."

The state faces a $6 billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year, due in part to the rollback of the 2011 temporary income tax hike. Democrats want to see that budget hole closed with a combination of cuts and new revenues. Rauner -- whose fiscal plan calls for no new revenues and proposes deep cuts to a range of programs and services -- vetoed most of the budget passed by state legislators due to its $4 billion shortfall.

While Democratic leaders in the Illinois General Assembly and the governor continue their standoff, the state entered the 2016 fiscal year on July 1 without a spending plan. Rauner did, however, sign a budget bill for K-12 and early childhood education in order for school to start on time.

Rep. Cassidy, who spoke with A Just Harvest and other nonprofits during Thursday's press conference, claims that, despite the budget impasse, the Illinois General Assembly leadership has not met since May.

"There have been individual conversations, but there has not been a collective conversation since May," she said.

She described the atmosphere in Springfield as "incredibly tense."

"The collegiality that was once among the only things we did really, really well is breaking down... People are tired, people are angry, people are entrenched into their positions and it threatens to do permanent harm to the way we do business in Illinois," Cassidy said.

"It started in January, that's when (Rauner) came in," Cassidy said. "It has changed the way people interact across the aisle, which is unfortunate and it doesn't have to be that way. We can disagree and still be collegial."

Cassidy said she couldn't say what it would take to pass a state budget, but added that she supports revenue solutions such as a graduated income tax, a sales tax on financial services, a tax on millionaires and the closure of corporate tax "loopholes."

Here's more from Cassidy, Pagan-Banks and others at the event:



Meanwhile, Maryon Banks, a 62-year-old home care worker for more than 30 years at the American Spanish Institute, at 2619 W. Armitage Ave., said the nonprofit has been forced to hold back two of her paychecks due to a lack of state funding.

"We're not getting paid, how are we supposed to pay our bills? People are going to lose their homes, people are going to lose their cars," said Banks, who earns $12.50 per hour providing home care services to seniors and disabled individuals.

Banks said she planned to seek out assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for help with her bills this winter.

"I wouldn't have to do that if I was getting paid," Banks said. "I'm trying to figure out what they think we're supposed to do."


For Ms. Banks: I believe LIHEAP's (CEDA) state funds were also halted in this budget impasse and that CEDA is finally receiving federal funding to keep the LIHEAP assistance running. But obviously there are going to be huge funding problems going into the colder weather.


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