SPECIAL REPORT: Budget Battle Continues to Burn Social Services

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“We are doing alright. But that’s not saying a whole lot. Last summer was very difficult on us.”

It’s been seven months since Karen Zangerle, Executive Director of PATH, had to make the difficult decision to lay off six staff members and shut down the organization’s Senior Outreach programs. The state’s budget impasse brought it to a tipping point.

Back in July, she told us. “I would never again take on state dollars. I think it will be decades before the state fixes its financial programs and I will never again put this agency at risk.”

More than half of a year later, she still can’t believe how far the budget crisis has reached.

“I never assumed that we would lose senior services. I mean, it’s a growing population. They were vital services. Why would I ever think that I would close those programs?” says. “Everything that I thought I knew, turned out to be wrong.”

The state is in its second year without a budget. PATH is not in imminent danger of shutting down, or even more reductions. But little reserves and continued delays on payments means the organization is still dealing with an uncertain future.

“I don’t have many answers anymore. I used to have a lot of answers,” says Zangerle.

PATH’s Adult Protective Services program is 100 percent state funded. To keep it running, she’s had to look in other places for the money.

For example, Zangerle says, “I’ll take a little bit of money from homeless here, which I’ll pay back when I get this money back in here.”

It’s all legal, but it’s frustrating.

Dianne Schultz, President and CEO of the Baby Fold is just as astounded by the continued impasse.

“We never thought we would still be sitting here in year two,” she says.

Unlike PATH, larger social services in McLean County, like the Baby Fold, have been able to rely on rainy day funds and lines of credit to pay their bills. But they’re not immune to the sting of the crisis.

“Even though the Baby Fold has a sound financial foundation, our children and families that we serve rely on a variety of community based services,” explains Schultz. “That reduction of services impacts the quality of life of our children and families.”

And for the first time, the organization had to dip into some of it’s investments.

But after two years, there is still some hope for a resolution. Lawmakers are hopeful the Grand Bargain in the Senate could bring some long-awaited relief.

After Governor Bruce Rauner’s Budget Address, Sen. David Koehler (D- 46th District) told WMBD, “The senate, thank goodness,as a very sincere and serious effort in a bipartisan way.”

“There still is a lack of agreement in the senate on some very key components that we republicans have tried to put forward,” explained Sen. Jason Barickman (R – 53rd Dsitrict). “I think we’re close in the senate, but we’re not quite there.”

Even the Baby Fold still has hope. But the longer the state goes without an agreement, the more social services continue to struggle.

“I may still have hope, but I think I’m running very thin on patience.,” says Schultz. “Regardless of what political philosophy you have about what’s important, we’ve reached a tipping point.”

Both the Baby Fold and PATH are focusing more on fundraising and donations, so they will not need to rely as much on state dollars.

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