For state agencies providing services to some of Illinois most vulnerable residents, the state’s perilous finances have been particularly painful.
But hope may be in sight.
Friday afternoon, Chicago Tonight reported a grand budget bargain is shaping up in Springfield and the Senate could begin voting on the measure as early as Monday when legislators return for a brief two-and-a-half day lame duck session.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction and we’ve been waiting for it for quite some time,” said Karina Ayala-Bermejo, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the Metropolitan Family Services and executive vice president of MFS.
“I’m hopeful that it’s a thoughtful budget that does not negatively impact human services, especially those that need them most like domestic violence victims, seniors, children and people with mental illness.”
Though hopeful, Ayala-Bermejo says she needs to “see it to believe it,” especially after the state’s stopgap budget failed to deliver $18 million in funding for domestic violence services to state agencies, including MFS.
“It was almost assumed that it would be included,” she said of the stopgap budget including money for domestic violence services. “Then we learned it wasn’t included. … It was pretty much a surprise to all of us providing domestic violence services.”
Of the $600,000 the organization expected from the state, it only received $54,000 in federal government funds from July through December 2016.
“This one took us by surprise because we had not anticipated being in this situation,” Ayala-Bermejo said. “This year MFS was prudent in its decision not to enter into any state contract that didn’t have any federal pass-through dollars or wasn’t connected to a consent decree.”
Many domestic violence victims seek out the Legal Aid Society at the courthouse to help them get an emergency order of protection, which can be a “confusing” and arduous process. As these individuals are helped, a court advocate assesses what other social services they may need, Ayala-Bermejo said.
Individuals are then connected with additional services based on their needs, which could include housing, counseling and additional legal services such as a preliminary order of protection or child custody.
“They’re the most vulnerable clients,” she said. “They’re in situations where they’re trying to save their lives.”
Each month the organization incurs $50,000 in costs for its domestic violence services and has taken out a line of credit to stay afloat, Ayala-Bermejo said. “That’s not economically sustainable. That’s not how you run a business.”
As of Dec. 31, 2016 the state still owes MFS $245,913 for its domestic violence services alone. Other high-ticket items owed by the state include: $110,954 for its intensive placement stabilization program; $49,987 for its Strive program; and $46,944 for its community integrated living arrangement program.
While the organization avoided cuts to its domestic violence services, it had to make “substantial” cuts to its healthy families and mental health programs, Ayala-Bermejo said.
“We intend to stand up for [domestic violence] clients and continue to provide services as much as we can,” she added.
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Jan. 6: After nearly two years of budget gridlock, spiraling deficits and political acrimony in Springfield, a grand bargain on the budget is coming together in the Illinois Senate.
Jan. 4: The state begins the new year, once again, without a budget. A one-on-one with Gov. Bruce Rauner to find out how he plans to finally come to a compromise.
Jan. 4: Illinois lawmakers go back to Springfield next week. Will they be ready to take budget action in the new year?