This summer, the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis has worked with about 150 youngsters a day through its Teen Reach program at the Mary Brown Center.
Five days a week, the program helps 7 to 17-year-olds with academic assistance and life skills while in a safe place, said Vera Jones, a vice president of development for Lessie Bates.
“We’re keeping them busy, we’re keeping them out of trouble, and helping form a line of success,” Jones said.
However, because of the ongoing state budget impasse, the Teen Reach Program, in addition to many state other social service programs are in limbo.
“We’re looking at possibly going to two or three days a week, looking at reducing the number of youth we’re serving, and we’re looking at laying off some of the employees,” Jones said.
On Wednesday, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger came to the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in to discuss the consequences of the continuing state budget impasse and how it affects nonprofits.
“Helping those who are most needy (and) most vulnerable in our communities is a mission that is very near and dear to my heart,” Munger said.
Munger, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka, even encouraged the roughly 40 people in attendance to call legislators to encourage them to pass a balanced budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1.
The budget impasse affects the comptroller’s ability to pay state bills, including money appropriated to social service agencies, her office said.
In recent years the state has been behind in paying its bills, which led to $57 million in late fees in the past year, Munger said.
“I bet you would want to have some of that $57 million for your organization,” Munger said.
“It does not help to tell people we’re going to give them money when we don’t have the money to pay them,” Munger added after her discussion.
Earlier this year, the general assembly passed a budget with a $4 billion deficit. Rauner rejected it and Munger on Wednesday called the deficit irresponsible.
“Certainly it’s a collaborative effort to get a budget,” Munger said. “I lay the bulk of the impasse on the legislature. I do so because it’s their responsibility, under the constitution, to send a balanced budget to the governor, or at least work with him to get a balanced budget.”
After her discussion she did say the state needed some reforms, such as workers’ compensation reform and property tax relief to help grow Illinois’ economy.
“If we’re going to make it a better more competitive place for businesses to be here, and if we’re going to have to look at new revenue sources, which the legislature has asked for, we’re going to do so in a way that helps businesses maintain their cost structure,” Munger said. “We cannot raise (taxes) without giving (businesses) some relief on the cost side somewhere and expect businesses to stay in Illinois.”
Earl McDowell Jr., who is the Lessie Bates board president, said he was grateful a state executive came to the Metro East.
Lessie Bates has been putting together contingency plans such as potential staff cuts and programmatic cuts if the budget impasse continues, McDowell said.
“We recognize there’s a serious crisis that is happening,” McDowell said. “God forbid if some of these programs were to leave the community, (how) would that leave the state of our city?”
On Tuesday, the state senate approved releasing $4.8 billion federal money that passes through state agencies, but is allocated for local programs.
The governor has indicated he would support it.
On Wednesday, CEO of AgeSmart Community Resources Joy Paeth was scheduled to address state representatives in Springfield, to ask the legislature to release federal money in order to help pay for senior services such as meal on wheels programs, transportation and health insurance counseling.
“The budget impasse will cause further erosion of human services provided by community organizations,” Paeth said in prepared remarks. “These agencies will soon have exhausted their financial reserves and lines of credit, will lay-off staff, reduce operating hours, and ultimately close their doors.”