Stretched Thin: LIFE CIL Says Voters Should Hold State Officials Accountable

May 11, 2016

Editors Note:  "Stretched Thin," is examining the effect of the state budget impasse on local social service agencies to put a human face on how the stalemate is affecting the daily lives of Illinois residents. 

A growing number of human service providers are suggesting Illinois residents express their dissatisfaction in the voting booth over the state's nearly year-long budget impasse.

"I know if I had something to do at my job and 10 months down the road it was still not done, I would not have my job," said Rickielee Benecke, disability advocate at Life Center for Independent Living in Bloomington.

LIFE CIL, as the organization is known,  helps the disabled as well as the elderly live on their own instead of in nursing homes or other care facilities.

"The fact that these people still have their job, that they are not doing their job and hurting thousands of people, that is a moral issue," Benecke said on GLT's "Sound Ideas."

LIFE CIL is awaiting funding of about $200,000 from the state for the current fiscal year which will end June 30. It has had to cut the number of hours at its Bloomington office to four days a week, and three days a week in its Pontiac office in Livingston County.

The shorter work week means it will take longer for disabled residents to complete LIFE CIL training for independent living.

It also means people who seek advice or help from LIFE CIL, such as obtaining free wheel chairs and other necessities, sometimes have to wait days before the center can respond.

The budget stalemate represents an impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislators over cuts Rauner seeks as part of his "turnaround" program for the state.

Benecke urged state leaders to put aside "political differences, stop the fighting and pointing fingers and blaming, and sit down at table to get this budget done, which is what they were elected to do."

Gail Kear, LiFE CIL's executive director, said the budget stalemate has hit hardest the poor, the homeless, and those most often marginalized by society.

Kear said political leaders tend to respond more quickly to citizens who have the resources to contribute to political causes or can control large blocks of voters.  "People who are poor, have disabilities, who are somewhat disenfranchised,  have neither. Therefore it is probably considered politically safer to balance the budget on their backs."

Kear noted it will take more revenue than Illinois currently brings in to fund the programs the state needs and its citizens want. 

She said the current crop of state leaders "don't want to wear the jacket as a political party or a politician for being the one who supports  a tax increase ... What they are perhaps not recognizing is how many of us voters would respect them more if they just said this is what's needed and they made the case for more revenue."

Independent living programs like LIFE CIL actually save taxpayers money, Kear said. Nursing homes cost an average of $53,000 and year and state institutional care averages about $130,000 or more  annually per person, she said. Kear estimated the cost to taxpayers of helping a resident live independently is about $20,000 a year.

"That is a gigantic savings," Kear said.

Kear and Benecke said LIFE CIL has been able to keep its doors open by cutting staff, postponing purchases of supplies and equipment, and dipping into its cash reserves from the private funds it receives.

They said a Catch 22 of the situation is that the state mandates LIFE CIL to offer certain services, but has not provided full funding to provide those services.

Some social agencies have been forced to borrow from banks to keep afloat. Kear said banks have reduced the credit lines of some LIFE CIL programs in Illinois,  fearing the loans will not be repaid if state funding doesn't come through.