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State-funded services in jeopardy with budget crisis

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year comes to an end with the Illinois budget in crisis, and families who depend on the state's help are wondering whether they will be able to count on it in the year ahead.

Illinois has run a deficit every year since 2001, and 2009 closes with the biggest budget disaster in its history.

It's a staggering $11 billion budget gap, impossible for many people to comprehend.

Human service agencies that depend on state money have no problem understanding the crisis at hand, and neither do the families who rely on their help.

Social service agencies took a big hit during last year's budget crisis, and many fear they will again next year.

The latest problem is that the state is way behind in paying its bills to human service agencies.

Gabby Rasendez gives her dad a blessing before he heads out to his housekeeping job. The 10-year-old Cicero girl has Down's syndrome, and while she goes to school, the resources are not enough to help her with some very basic needs. She and her family rely on the state-funded agency community support services in Brookfield. A case worker usually comes to the Rasendez home or takes Gabby out to give her one-on-one attention.

"They have gone out to malls, where she has learned to pay for purchases. They go swimming," Gabby's mother Maria Resendez said.

Gabby's 13-year-old sister has noticed a big change in Gabby.

"When they take her to the library, she is more interested in reading. She likes to write," Lupita Resendez said.

The Resendezes fear those services may go away if state funding is cut.

Seventy percent of Community Support Services' budget comes from state. The agency cut eight staff members during last summer's fiscal crisis. Now, employees are hearing next year could be worse.

"We are concerned because we are learning reports that there might be a 15 percent budget cut, and that would affect the service that we can provide families," said Rocio Perez, Community Support Services, Inc.

Community Support Services is surviving on a line of credit because the state is two months behind in payments. Maria Resendez went to Springfield last year and will go again to fight for her daughter and other kids with disabilities.

"Without these services she would go backwards. Even if I tried to help, it would not be the same," Maria Resendez said.

Community Support Services say their goal is to help children with disabilities become productive human beings, which they say is cheaper in the long run for every taxpayer.

"They can contribute as much as we can, as much as everybody else." Perez said.

Community Support Services says when people with disabilities do not get the proper help in childhood, they could face institutionalization as adults. The agency says the cost to institutionalize someone is $150,000 per year, which is way more expensive than providing money to service providers now.

As for the state's unpaid bills, there is a dispute over whether the state should borrow more money to pay its bills.

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state budget, local, sarah schulte
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