Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday May 10th, 2016, 4:53pm

Illinois Budget Stalemate Disproportionately Harms Women, Coalition Says

The long-running state budget impasse has created numerous barriers for women and mothers in Illinois, a new analysis shows.

The Responsible Budget Coalition, which represents over 250 groups in Illinois, has a new report detailing how the state budget stalemate has "disproportionately harmed" women.

"State leaders," the report reads, "have abandoned investments that provide opportunities for women and mothers to get a good education and a good job; promote health and safety; allow children to grow and succeed; provide support for those caring for children, seniors, and those with disabilities; and foster thriving communities."

As a result of the political standoff between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic state lawmakers, Illinois has yet to enact a full budget for the fiscal year that began last July. At the center of the impasse is Rauner's push for his pro-business, anti-union policy agenda, items from which he wants approved as part of a budget deal.

On Monday, coalition members gathered outside the office of state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) to unveil their report. They spoke with Harris about the budget impasse and urged him "to stand up for mothers by asking his leadership to put aside non-budget agendas and pass a responsible budget," according to the coalition.

"The choice is simple: put the safety of mothers first, not the governor's non-budget agenda," said Yesenia Maldonado, executive director of the domestic violence service provider Between Friends. "Pass a budget that chooses revenue instead of choosing to put mothers' lives in danger."

Harris reportedly told the group that he too is concerned about the stalemate's impact on social services and hopes there will be a budget agreement soon.

"This budget situation is the worst we've ever seen," the lawmaker said, according to the Daily Herald. "I'm discouraged. I'm disheartened. We must get a budget for the state of Illinois. We are pushing the state over a financial cliff."

Because the state lacks a full budget, services for "17,500 Illinoisans impacted by domestic violence, eviction, and financial exploitation" have yet to be funded in the current fiscal year, according to the Responsible Budget Coalition. Also going unfunded are sexual assault services and the Meals on Wheels program for seniors. Sixty-percent of seniors who are food insecure are female, the report says.

Homeless services have faced cuts as well.

"Families with young children are among the fastest growing groups in the United States affected by homelessness," the report reads. "A typical sheltered homeless family is comprised of a mother in her late twenties with two children."

Child care assistance is another issue covered in the report. Families headed by single mothers make up 78 percent of those using the state's Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which helps low-income working families afford day care.

Last year, the Rauner administration made changes to CCAP by implementing stricter eligibility requirements and increasing parent co-pays. The administration said the changes were necessary in order to manage the state's finances without a budget. The new requirements have resulted in 48,200 fewer children being enrolled in the program this year, according to the Responsible Budget Coalition.

The state's higher education institutions and Monetary Award Program, meanwhile, went unfunded for nearly 10 months, creating sheer financial chaos for colleges, universities and students. Women, according to the report, represent 54 percent of undergraduate students at Illinois colleges and universities. Regarding the MAP program, women made up 62 percent of the tuition grant recipients last year.

Some emergency higher education funding was approved late last month, though it failed to prevent 300 layoffs just days later at Chicago State University. 

The Responsible Budget Coalition says "women and their families need a fully funded budget immediately."

"Continued delay in enacting a budget creates immediate and lasting barriers for women," the report says. "There are also serious consequences for women over the medium and long-term if lawmakers fail to raise sustainable revenues.  If unpaid bills continue to pile up, services that are currently receiving funding such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, energy assistance, and K-12 education could also be at risk in the not too distant future."

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