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August 2, 2009

State budget woes lead to cuts for Catholic Charities

By Michelle Martin


Now that Illinois has a budget in place, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and other social service agencies around the state are trying to figure out what it will mean for their clients.

The emergency budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn on July 15 will fund social services at 86 percent of the level at which they were funded last year. However, exactly which agencies will receive how much funding is yet to be determined, said Kristin Ortman, Catholic Charities’ spokeswoman.

“We are not guaranteed to receive 86 percent of the funding we received in our state contracts last fiscal year across the board,” Ortman said. “It is too soon to determine the final impact of this budget crisis. We are committed to advocating on behalf of our clients, staff and programs as these decisions are made. These services are needed more than ever during this economic downturn that is taking its toll on the most vulnerable in our society, such as seniors and families living in poverty.”

Catholic Charities last year helped roughly 1 million clients in Cook and Lake Counties with services ranging from emergency food and shelter to home health care and housekeeping help for senior citizens. Over the last year, it saw large increases in requests for food, clothing, utility and rental assistance.

In June, Catholic Charities was among the social service agencies that received letters warning that the then-proposed state budget included cuts of 50 percent from last year’s spending on social services.

No budget was passed before the fiscal year ended June 30, forcing Catholic Charities to notify some staff that their positions would be eliminated or their hours cut.

How those people will be affected by the new budget also is not known, Ortman said. The various state agencies that fund social service programs are still working out what the state budget means to them, she said.

In the meantime, Catholic Charities is starting a special fund aimed at blunting the pain of the budget cuts. For more information about the Neighbors in Need Fund, see Father Michael Boland’s column on Page 9.

Ortman said she thinks state lawmakers listened to the information they were given before the budget passed and increased the amount available for social services.

For example, many frail elderly people can stay in their homes with help from housekeepers who are provided by Catholic Charities through a grant from the state Department on Aging. Without help, many of those clients would have to move to nursing homes at a higher cost to taxpayers.

Another program helps pregnant and parenting teens, Ortman said. It is contracted through the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which receives the funding primarily from the Illinois Department of Human Services, the State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools.

The program starts with pregnant teens, and helps them have a healthy pregnancy and delivery, Ortman said. The intervention reduces low-birth weights and infant mortality, while protecting the health of the mother.

In fiscal 2008, Catholic Charities served 121 girls, and 69 of their infants and toddlers. For fiscal 2010, the agency expected to receive about $407,000 to continue to operate the program at the same level.

Catholic Charities instead was issued a six-month contract at 50 percent of that level, or roughly $200,000. This brought the program down to five staff. That contract was contingent upon appropriations and a signed state budget. When that didn’t come to pass after July 2, the Ounce of Prevention fund said it couldn’t fund the program until a budget/appropriation was received. Catholic Charities decided to keep operating and did not lay off the remaining staff, hopeful that a budget would be signed and some funding restored soon.