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Local News

Budget impasse forces layoff, furloughs at disability advocacy group that serves Will, Grundy counties

JOLIET – Even as Gov. Bruce Rauner shifted sights to next year’s spending plan during his address to lawmakers last week, social service agencies in Will and Grundy counties are still facing the very real consequences of Springfield’s inaction in the current fiscal year.

Katy Hoyer, a full-time advocate for people with disabilities at the Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living, was laid off Friday.

But Hoyer doesn’t blame her employer. She blames Springfield.

“I wish [the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner] could just sit down and understand that these are real lives being affected,” Hoyer said. “To be a person with a disability, to go through the struggles of finding a job, then find a place where you fit in and then have it taken away from you because of the budget, is disheartening.”

Hoyer, 26, has cerebral palsy and said she struggled for years to find employment despite her master’s degree in social work.

“I was starting to make this place home, a place where my abilities and skills are appreciated,” Hoyer said.

The nonprofit Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living – based in Joliet – must also institute furlough days for its remaining employees because the WGCIL is owed $86,000 from the state for the current fiscal year, Pam Heavens, the center’s longtime executive director, said in a statement.

The center is “losing a valuable employee,” Heavens said.

The layoff will save the center about $40,000 per year, while furlough days will save just over $5,300.

“We have almost depleted our savings. Thus, we had no other choice,” Heavens said.

Balance of government

Rauner, during his budget address, gave lawmakers two choices: Give him unilateral authority to cut programs to balance next year’s budget or work with him on a mix of revenue options, budget cuts and reforms.

Passage of the Unbalanced Budget Response Act, according to Rauner’s budget book, would give him authority to establish spending reserves, reduce provider rates currently set in statute, reallocate balances from other state accounts into general funds and alter or delay payments under continuing appropriations.

Morris Mayor Dick Kopczick said Friday he questions whether Rauner is qualified to make those determinations.

“Do you want to put all of that into one man’s hands?” Kopczick said. “Why do we have a City Council? Balance of government was created for a reason.”

He said he, like many city leaders, is worried the state will come after municipal coffers next to fill in multibillion-dollar budget holes.

In particular, cities are worried the state will make a grab for municipalities’ share of the state income tax – or the Local Government Distributive Fund.

Rauner has threatened to take that funding before with little luck, but Kopczick said he is increasingly concerned about the possibility.

MAP grants for college students

Rauner on Friday vetoed Democrat-backed legislation that would have funded higher education grants for low-income college students.

He said in a statement the move would “explode the state’s budget deficit.”

Rauner blamed the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for making promises it can’t keep.

“Despite its constitutional obligation to balance the budget, the General Assembly has not put forward a plan to pay for these programs, whether through spending reductions, revenue or cost-saving reforms,” he said in the statement.

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