Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pass fair and sensible Illinois budget, protestors say

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO – On July 1 over one million people across Illinois will lose access to social services as state lawmakers here scramble to approve a “doomsday” budget, which contains major cuts up to 50 percent that critics are calling unacceptable.

Nearly 1,000 people rallied here at the James R. Thompson Center June 30 to demand state lawmakers pass a fair and sensible budget that will keep intact social services for children, seniors and working families.

Julie Dworkin, with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said up to $11 million may be slashed from programs and services provided for the homeless throughout the state. “We’re living in one of the worst recessions in recent history and people now more than ever are in jeopardy of becoming homeless,” she said. Dworkin said on average there are 73,000 homeless in Chicago per year. “The cost of housing is not in par with people’s wages these days,” she said. “And the home foreclosure crisis is increasingly victimizing families.”

Wayne Richard, also with Dworkin’s group, addressed the crowd saying, “Our communities are receiving up to 50 percent cuts to our much needed services and it’s not fair, and we’re here to tell our legislators we’re not going to stand for it.”

Action Now Executive Director Denise Dixon said cuts to programs and services that provide assistance to seniors is careless. “My husband is a senior and what touches him touches me,” she said. “We want our legislators to work for us. Who are the biggest voting block in Illinois?” she asked. “Seniors,” she said.

“They vote and they don’t forget and together we all will not forget and we won’t vote for those lawmakers who want to cut our services.” Dixon continued, “We need state leaders on our side and we will start tomorrow to do voter registration and remind people how badly working families are being treated.”

Karina Lopez, 20, a leader with Chicago Area Project, grew up as a child in the Department of Children and Family Services foster care system. Lopez said she was taken away from her abusive and alcoholic mother as a child. Public programs, including therapy, helped her cope with her difficult situation growing up. It’s these services that must not be cut for children across the state, she said.

“These are kids who are sleeping in agencies who have no place to go,” said Lopez. “They are confused and have a lot of hate and anger. They have nothing left to lose and should not be left on the streets where they are primary targets for gangs to recruit.”

Children in the system need services and are in search of a decent home and legislators should think about how these budget cuts are going to affect these innocent kids, said Lopez. “The only way I got ahead in life was being able to fall back on these services growing up,” she remarked.

Bobbie Walsh is a leader with the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “I work with struggling parents everyday who have to decide weather to feed their families or pay gas, electric or water bills,” she said. Walsh said every month 2,700 families come to her family food shelter. “One in four Illinois children go hungry every night and one in nine parents are receiving food stamps,” explained Walsh. Closing DHS offices at a time when demand for food stamps is skyrocketing is unthinkable, added Walsh.

Walsh continued, “Lawmakers say we can do more with less but not during this economic crisis.” Domestic violence will continue to rise because people feel hopeless, said Walsh. “What is it going to take for our elected officials to understand the pain and suffering of these children and their families,” she asked. “We are calling on our state leaders to speak up and tell the general assembly to put people first and to pass a humane sensible budget. We are counting on them to do what is right,” she said.

Speakers at the rally are furious that state lawmakers believe they have solved the budget problem by borrowing $2.2 billion. They charge the budget requires long-term, new revenue in order to maintain the programs that are more critical than ever, not a quick fix, or a month-to-month budget.

Families, adults, seniors and children will lose their housing, their employment, their substance abuse treatment and kids will lose their foster homes, their childcare, their health care, their psychiatric services, critics of the budget claim.

As many as 200,000 people in the Human Services field and as many as 10,000 state employees will be laid off in the middle of a terrible recession where people already need more services and assistance, not less, they say. Only a balanced, fair, equitable, humane and sensible budget that will increase revenue is needed, they charge.

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