We used to speak of a social safety net. Today, that net is rapidly fraying, and our nation’s most vulnerable families are plummeting through by the thousands.
This is certainly true in Illinois, where newly elected Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) declared firmly during his budget address earlier this year that “this is our last, best chance to get our house in order.” He did so while introducing a series of cuts to vital services for our region’s most vulnerable, including the elderly, homeless people, women, children, and individuals with disabilities. Currently, Illinois lawmakers are in the midst of budget negotiations with the governor’s office. According to the Illinois Constitution, they are required to pass a balanced budget by July 1, 2015.
If the governor gets his way, up to 14,000 women with breast or cervical cancer will have their disease remain undetected with fewer available cancer screenings. Parents of children older than 5 years would be denied child-care assistance, making economic security out of reach for working families across Illinois. The eradication of Teen REACH after-school programs for disadvantaged youth will leave up to 14,000 young people in 57 communities nowhere to turn after school lets out at the end of the day.
Gov. Rauner also proposed eliminating $17.6 million in Regional Transportation subsidies that pay for reduced fares for students, the elderly, and disabled people. This is just another kick in the gut for the families who rely on public transportation to get them to work each day.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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When it comes to Medicaid, the governor has proposed $1.47 billion in reductions in many areas of coverage, including dental services and mental health. Over the past few days, it has also come to light that the governor’s budget would slash $419,000 from funding for domestic violence shelters throughout Illinois.
Additionally, funding for supportive housing has been eliminated or severely reduced in the governor’s proposed budget. These cuts will reverse the gains made in ending homelessness.
These cuts are not just rows of numbers on spreadsheets. When you arbitrarily zero out funding for social services and health care, you put thousands of women and families at risk. The Chicago Tribune recently published an article that highlighted the budget’s potential impact on individual women. Pamela Boyd, for example, testified at an Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) hearing on behalf of Chicago Foundation for Women grantee Deborah’s Place, which helps homeless women with housing and life skills. Boyd had been employed for nearly 30 years, she told the DHS, but when she was diagnosed with lupus, she was unable to work and eventually lost her home.
“I had worked all my life, had this ‘American Dream’ that you’re supposed to have, then got sick and the bottom fell out of my world,” the Tribune quoted Boyd as saying. Deborah’s Place, according to her testimony, also helped her obtain dental care and learn about personal finances. If the governor’s plan succeeds, the organization could lose $250,000.
We definitely have hard choices to make when facing a $6 billion budget deficit and $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. But does the governor think that cutting social services—only a tiny fraction of the budget—is a good way to begin to tackle our state’s financial woes?
Examining the tax code, for example, would have a more substantial impact relative to the deficit. Illinois residents enjoyed significant income tax relief earlier this year with the phase-down of the 2011 Taxpayer Accountability and Budget Stabilization Act (TABSA). But what we don’t often talk about is how the money involved in that tax relief—particularly the $2 billion that is going back to the wealthiest 11.8 percent of Illinois—could have instead been directed to our deficit and liabilities, so that we are not balancing the budget on the backs of our working women and families.
While philanthropic organizations like Chicago Foundation for Women and the individual donors who make our work possible have long been investing in the improvement of the lives of women and families, it must be clear that our efforts alone will not succeed in making sustainable, systemic advancements. We need the leadership of our public partners. As much as we would like, we will never be able to fill the ever-widening gap in our social safety net once filled by the government.
Our state’s most vulnerable children and families have already faced cut after cut. A budget that asks them to sacrifice even more is reprehensible.