As Illinois approaches a whole year without a state budget, all social service agencies are struggling to find ways to continue to provide vital programs to the most vulnerable Illinoisans.
While parts of the budget have continued to operate due to court decrees, continuing appropriations and special budgets passed last year, there is still critical funding for human services that has remained trapped due to the 2016 budget impasse.
There are two ways the General Assembly can help save many indispensable social services immediately:
1. Release the federal pass-through funds.
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2. Unlock special funds that are not part of the state’s General Revenue Fund.
As the General Assembly gets into the home stretch of the budgeting process for fiscal year 2017, members need to consider the positive precedence set last year when bipartisan budget bills were passed to free up federal and special funds. We understand piece-meal budgets are not popular in our current political environment, however, federal pass-through and special funds should not be unnecessarily held hostage.
Release federal pass-through funds
Federal funds are appropriated by Congress and authorized for spending by the government. These funds are allocated to the states to provide services. Our General Assembly appropriates these federal pass-through funds to authorize the State of Illinois to actually spend the funds. Some of these federal funds may require a state match out of our general revenue fund while others do not.
The non-match federal funds represent a multibillion dollar revenue package that supports services and contributes to a large part of our state’s economy through jobs, infrastructure, goods and services. Not appropriating these funds before the beginning of the state’s fiscal year would be irresponsible on the part of lawmakers as these funds are already available for spending.
Unlock special funds
Special funds are financed by fees and surcharges that are not part of the funding mechanism of the General Revenue Fund. For example, Illinois law requires regulated utilities to charge their customers a small fee to fund the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income senior citizens, persons with disabilities and families with kids under the age of 6 pay their utilities.
The money the utilities collect is intended only for LIHEAP. And, even if the funds are not appropriated for spending, the utilities are still remitting the collected funds to the State of Illinois. The collected funds could be used to help people in need of utility assistance, instead of sitting idle as we wait for a budget solution.
Just like federal pass-through funds, special funds do not add to the structural deficit of the state’s operating budget.
The General Assembly must consider appropriating federal pass-through and special funds through a standalone budget should there not be an agreement on the 2017 budget. This will ensure that more than a million of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents who are seeking necessary programs and support from social services will be served.
Without the appropriation of this funding, some programs may have to close, putting vulnerable populations at risk of losing homes, jobs, etc.
While we believe that it is critical for the whole budget to be passed so that all programs and services are authorized for spending, we also believe that federal pass-through and special fund dollars should not be held up over unresolved issues with the 2017 state budget.
We are appealing to common sense in these trying and very politically divisive times and ask that the General Assembly appropriate these funds that will otherwise sit idle in an account.
Dalitso Sulamoyo is president and CEO of Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies.