Co-authored by: Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust; Grace Hou, president of Woods Fund Chicago; and Leslie Ramyk, executive director of Conant Family Foundation.
If the gnashing of teeth were any louder over the deplorable impact of our state’s budget impasse, we wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves weep.
We in the social sector are stunned by the deafness of Springfield toward a consensus chorus of calls from the business community, local politicians and community leaders for resolution. It seems that no amount of condemnation or outrage has an effect, and the traditional tools of advocacy are impotent.
Our concern is about matters greater than the carnage created by the lack of funding—it is the very essence of our social contract with government and the expectation that government works for the people.
In this past year without a budget, the state of Illinois has failed its agreement with its residents and its nonprofit partners. The state has intentionally outsourced essential services to its nonprofits to care for and serve its most vulnerable residents.
In just eight short months, the work that nonprofits took decades to establish is being decimated. The sector is now unable to provide adequate services as organizations close or scale back, and highly trained talent leaves the sector and state.
These nonprofits have efficiently and effectively provided services, and they continue to fulfill their part of the deal, but the state has failed to fulfill its part. The budget impasse has left nonprofits with staggering bills and debt, resulting in layoffs and service cuts.
These layoffs and service cuts have resulted in serious consequences, beginning with the erosion of trust and confidence in government.
And then there are the dire consequences of loss of vital services, such as those proven to help curb crime and violence. Redeploy Illinois is an effective and cost-effective alternative to prison for juvenile offenders and has shown to significantly reduce recidivism. But due to the budget impasse, more than half of participating counties have been forced to leave the program, representing a 40% spike in the juvenile prison population.
In addition, more than 1,800 youth already have lost access to the Teen REACH after-school program aimed at providing safe and educational alternatives for at-risk youth.
Local economies are already suffering. People have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. Colleges were on the verge of shutting down, and students are pursuing other, out-of-state options. Contractual payments and reimbursements are halted. Local businesses need these payments to keep their doors open. Small-business owners are now borrowing and paying interest just to continue operating. Small businesses, together with nonprofits of all sizes, have become unwilling lenders to a dysfunctional and leaderless state.
Redeploy Illinois, an effective and cost-effective alternative to prison for juvenile offenders, has shown to significantly reduce recidivism. But due to the budget impasse, more than half of participating counties have been forced to leave the program, representing a 40% spike in the juvenile prison population.
In a time of very divisive politics, it’s important to take a moment and refocus on our shared goals. While policies will be debated and elections have consequences, we should remember the goal is to help people improve their lives, not to play politics with their fears and hardships.
Whether in academia, human services, the arts or business, we are all working for Illinois’ future. Philanthropy has helped build the social sector that government uses to deliver vital services. But in just eight short months, the work that these nonprofits took decades to establish is being decimated. The sector is now unable to provide adequate services as organizations close or scale back, and highly trained talent leaves the sector and state.
Philanthropy can never replace what the Illinois government has failed to fulfill. The math just doesn’t add up. While foundations provide $3.3 billion in grants each year—approximately a tenth of the overall state budget—the financial hole we now find ourselves in is many times that amount.
It’s painful to see this crisis deal further damage to our economy and reputation, to local businesses, to regular people who rely on human services and to college students who rely on state grants.
Illinois has intentionally outsourced essential services to its nonprofits to care for and serve its most vulnerable residents. Nonprofits continue to fulfill their part of the deal—but the state has failed to fulfill its part.
The longer we wait, the harder it will be to repair the damage. We need the leaders in Springfield to be honest and fair partners. This impasse is not the result of government inefficiency. Rather, it is creating inefficiency.
Mr. Governor and leaders of the General Assembly, allow business leaders, civic leaders, human service providers and community developers to continue the good work we’ve done in our state for decades.
This budget impasse has gone on far too long. It’s time to try a new strategy. There is a saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Please stop digging and partner with us to adopt a budget so we can work together to grow our state.
Adapted from an editorial originally published in Crain’s Chicago.