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Local News

Local agencies sound off on state shutdown

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with Employees of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Tuesday in Springfield. Rauner said a partial state government shutdown is worth the pain if it brings fundamental change to business and politics in Illinois. He addressed workers at the EMA one day before the state begins a new fiscal year without a budget agreement.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks with Employees of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Tuesday in Springfield. Rauner said a partial state government shutdown is worth the pain if it brings fundamental change to business and politics in Illinois. He addressed workers at the EMA one day before the state begins a new fiscal year without a budget agreement.

SPRINGFIELD – As Illinois lawmakers in Springfield continue the blame game over a budget impasse, leaders of local nonprofits and social service agencies are white-knuckled at the thought of an extended government shutdown.

The new fiscal year, which started at 12:01 Wednesday, likely began without a budget in place for the year – unless a last-minute deal was reached late Tuesday night.

“Many will be operating on a very fragile belief that they can continue doing business for a limited time [without state funding],” said Frank Di Bartolomeo, president and CEO for Services Inc. of Will, Grundy and Kankakee counties.

The local agency – also known as the Child and Family Connections – serves thousands of residents of those three counties by providing early intervention programs for children with disabilities and other services for adults with development disabilities.

Funded primarily through the Illinois Department of Human Services, such critical programs “will certainly” be shut down if a budget deal is not reached soon, Di Bartolomeo said.

Like many groups, the local agency will be operating on a line of credit and relying on cash reserves for as long as it can, Di Bartolomeo said.

But there’s no telling how long the banks will allow agencies to continue pulling from those lines, he said.

“And that means I’ll have to close my doors. And if I close my doors, 77 employees will get furloughed,” he said. “Parents are calling, asking ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’ ”

A stopgap solution

Republican lawmakers Tuesday pushed back hard against a Democratic-backed $2.3 billion stopgap spending plan designed to fund essential services for one month while negotiations continue. A vote is possible Wednesday, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has repeatedly stated he would veto any short-term fixes.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said the proposal would pay for state police protection, monitoring sex offenders and health care coverage for the poor and disabled.

The Chicago Democrat said it’s “another opportunity” for Rauner to avoid a government shutdown.

But state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, called the move “another gimmick,” by the Democratic Party.

“This is a gimmick, just like the gimmicks that got us in this situation in the first place,” Rezin said.

Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, said she doesn’t see a reason to kick the can down the road.

“Why, in the name of heaven, would any of us look at a bill that continues with unsustainable spending? There’s no reason to play games anymore,” McDermed said. “That’s a distraction. Madigan’s bill is intended to distract people from the real issue. Don’t be fooled.”

Still, Democrats and social service agency leaders often argue it’s Rauner who is holding state services hostage by using the budget crisis as leverage to pass his non-budgetary Turnaround Agenda items.

Even Di Bartolomeo said he is uncertain about the benefits of a short-term fix.

“As much as it’s difficult for me to say this, I think that’s the wrong idea because all that does it help things cripple along [and] that doesn’t force the two sides to start negotiating seriously,” Di Bartolomeo said.

Other programs in jeopardy

The government shutdown has leaders from other nonprofits in the area — including Will County Center for Community Concerns – worried.

At stake is the state’s energy bill assistance program that is administered locally through the center, said Kris White, longtime executive director for WCCCC.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – suspended earlier this year by the governor – provides supplemental funding for low-income renters and homeowners who can’t afford to pay their energy bill.

Without a state budget, the 63,000 people relying on financial assistance statewide will be dropped from the program, she said, and the next open enrollment period wouldn’t be until October. Exemptions are made for seniors and people with disabilities, but it’s unclear whether funding for the program will ever come to fruition.

“Unfortunately, no, it’s not fair. For me, the sad part is, while we’re going through this, it’s our clients and our customers who are most impacted.”

White said she didn’t want to comment on how long WCCCC could survive with cash reserves and a line of credit. But it won’t be easy, she said.

“We will do our best to keep an open line of communication with our customers,” White said. “We are going to try to keep our agency going. Of course, it will all depend on how long government is shut down.”

As of late Tuesday, a budget deal had not been reached. Meanwhile, the Illinois House took testimony in Springfield from more than a dozen key state agencies on how they intend to survive a shutdown.

Neal Waltmire, with the Responsible Budget Coalition, said a government shutdown puts nonprofits and social services agencies in “an absolutely unnecessary but terrible situation.”

“The problem is that some of this you just can’t repair. You just can’t put back it together,” Waltmire said. “Real people are going to be impacted.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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