Friday, February 25, 2011

Illinois promises fewer cuts; social service agencies still bracing for the worst

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Many social service agencies that depend on state money to assist the disabled, the poor and people struggling with substance abuse took little comfort in the news Thursday that the cash-strapped Illinois Department of Human Services may have found a way to avoid $100 million in cuts this year.

Last week, Human Services secretary Michelle Saddler told social service agencies that the cuts would be closer to $200 million, which would have — among other things — eliminated almost all state funding for substance abuse programs.

On Thursday, Saddler and Gov. Quinn’s budget office said additional federal funding, along with leaving some vacant state jobs unfilled, would reduce the cuts.

But many social service advocates — some of whom protested outside the Thompson Center on Thursday — said uncertainty about specific cuts, expected to be announced in March, has already had a devastating effect by forcing agencies to cut staff and turn away clients.

“The problem is, treatment providers [working with] Human Services have been living with this year after year after year — we’re an easy target,” said Ray Soucek, president of the Chicago-based Haymarket Center. At any given time, it has about 1,000 clients in various substance-abuse treatment programs. Legislators “will always claim they have to fund education and safety. But substance abuse affects education and public safety.”

About 45 percent of Haymarket’s budget comes from the state, he said.

Quinn told reporters he’s facing a very difficult balancing act.