Metro-East News

State budget means more certainty for social services, Caritas CEO says

Caritas Family Solutions CEO Gary Huelsmann stands outside the St. John Bosco Children’s Center in September 2016.
Caritas Family Solutions CEO Gary Huelsmann stands outside the St. John Bosco Children’s Center in September 2016.

Illinois’ first budget in two years is the first step in returning more financial stability to the state’s social agencies, according to a metro-east official with one of those social agencies.

Gary Huelsmann, the CEO of Caritas Family Solutions in Belleville, said a budget will let the social agencies better define the number of people they can help.

“The social service infrastructure — the web of organizations that support families and individuals — has been incredibly weakened over the last several years,” he said. “When there are no budgets, what the budget does bring is some certainty.”

A United Way survey showed that about a million Illinoisans lost access to some social services during the budget impasse, according to Andrea Durbin, chairwoman of Pay Now Illinois Coalition and CEO of Illinois Collaboration on Youth.

She said the coalition was formed to ensure social service providers received payments for services they provided during the budget impasse. She noted that within the coalition’s organizations statewide, almost 1,000 jobs have been cut since the budget impasse.

“The strain on these providers has been incredible,” she said. “Many of them have spent their cash reserves, they have exhausted their lines of credit — some have had them canceled — and interest on credit just adds to the bills and makes the financial situation worse. So they’ve lost that working capital, they have gone without needed repairs.”

The strain on these providers has been incredible. Many of them have spent their cash reserves, they have exhausted their lines of credit — some have had them canceled — and interest on credit just adds to the bills and makes the financial situation worse.

Andrea Durbin, chairwoman of Pay Now Illinois Coalition and CEO of Illinois Collaboration on Youth

Caritas, formerly known as Catholic Social Services, is a nonprofit that provides services centered around foster care, adoption, counseling, senior and disabled adults and troubled teens. The organization receives about 90 percent of its funding from the state

“These are core services, there’s nothing fluffy about this stuff,” Huelsmann said. “Children were removed because there was danger — there was severe neglect or abuse — and someone has to care for them.”

He added, “We really are a system of last resort … when all else has failed, we have to pick up the pieces.”

Huelsmann said that as of Friday, the state owed his agency approximately $2 million, which he described as “a big number to owe us.”

He noted that while on paper the agency has no immediate source of cash, the organization will continue to stay open and provide services. A line of credit with a bank has allowed it to continue paying bills.

Huelsmann added that he believes nonprofit social services are part of the financial solution in Illinois, because the organizations focus on providing cost-effective wellness services to families and communities.

“The fact is that having a budget is so much better, incredibly better than not knowing what’s going to happen,” Huelsmann said. “I want people to be completely clear — it’s so important to have a budget to know how many people we can serve ... without that, it becomes a guessing game, and a dangerous guessing game at that.”

When a child was missing in an abandoned garage for two years, what does that say? These things happen all over the place. ... (Financial cutbacks are) a bit of shame, the research has shown that the work we do is incredibly important for the health and wellness of the communities we do it.

Gary Huelsmann, CEO of Caritas Family Solutions in Belleville

Caritas’ services are in large part court-mandated under consent decrees. In the last several years, Huelsmann said, the money to pay the bills came in at the nick of time each month.

And as the state budget fight reduced or eliminated preventative services offered to the community, he said, Caritas’ operating budget increased with the influx of last-resort cases coming to the organization.

While they continued to receive funding for the organization’s main service — foster care — therapy programs to keep youths out of jail did not receive consistent funding. So the organization had to pay the bills using donations, lines of credit and other funds that officials could locate.

“When a child was missing in an abandoned garage for two years, what does that say?” he asked, referring to a recent case in which police say a Belleville girl was killed and her body hidden in a Centreville garage. “These things happen all over the place. ... (Financial cutbacks are) a bit of shame, the research has shown that the work we do is incredibly important for the health and wellness of the communities we do it.”

Durbin said that in many cases, people’s situations deteriorated because services fell short — from preventing homelessness and addiction to helping single mothers achieve financial independence.

“It’s all those kinds of situations that we need to begin to move people to a place where they can be healthy, where they can be safe. … and be self-sufficient,” Durbin said. “That’s going to take many more months and years to get back to a place where our human services are functioning at an optimal level.”

She said the coalition won’t be dissolving any time soon, even with a budget in place.

“Well, obviously we are going to take a wait- and-see approach — we have it on good authority that the funding should be there and the means to pay for our work should be there,” she said. “I am not going to close any legal doors until we know for sure that people are paid for the work they do. So we will keep a very close eye on whether people are being paid between now and Sept. 20.”

That date, she noted, was set in place to give the state a deadline to make payments on debts owed to such organizations.

For other social service organizations, the late payments — or sometimes no payments at all — weren’t as consequential.

Still, Carolyn Hubler, St. Clair County Child Advocacy Center’s executive director, said she hopes to see some of that missing money now that a budget has been put into place.

“So we are hoping to get caught up with that, and having everything caught up payment-wise,” Hubler said. “… The budget really hasn’t had a terrible impact on us – we have a different funding stream so we have kept our people working and our services going on.”

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