Approval of a state budget earlier this summer showed promise for social service agencies and other non-profits, but the relief of receiving payments isn’t instantaneous.
Ellen Rogers is executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, which provides Meals on Wheels and local bus services to seniors and people with disabilities.
She says a large portion of their budget comes from the Illinois Department of Transportation and, because of the impasse, those dollars weren’t flowing in a consistent, timely manner.
"Last December, we were very, very concerned about how much longer we were going to keep our doors open," Rogers said. "And then … the money appeared."
Rogers says cash-flow issues caused the VAC to close a couple of their senior luncheon programs. They were also unable to accept new clients to the part of the Meals on Wheels program serving people under 60 who have a disability.
Rogers says the impasse was difficult on staff members and, more importantly, on the people VAC serves. She says nutritional services are an immediate need, not something that can wait until further down the line.
Other local agencies also are suffering.
Executive Director Mary Ellen Schaid says Safe Passage did not receive any state money last fiscal year for their domestic violence program. Safe Passage provides shelter, legal advocacy and counseling services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Most of the organization’s funding came from federal revenue and contributions from a mental health board, various foundations and individual donations.
"It was getting tight," Schaid said. "We were starting to do scenario planning with the board and trying to figure out …what will we do?"
Schaid says Safe Passage was able to make it through the year without any layoffs or disruption to services, though she’s not exactly sure how.
She says the state budget resolution has done little to make the future any clearer.
"DHS is communicating with us and saying, 'You’re going to get the money.' They just don’t know when," Schaid said. "We don’t have a timeline."
Schaid says the Department of Human Services currently owes Safe Passage around half a million dollars. And that’s not including money that’s supposed to be paid out for the new fiscal year.
Schaid says the rest of the general state revenue backlogged last year will never get repaid.
State funding for Safe Passage goes directly to paying employee salaries. If employees are let go, state funding goes with them.
"We have a very unique situation here, with our funding. And if we lose the funding, the program goes away," Schaid said. "But we don’t have the ability to tighten our belts."
Ellen Rogers says community contributions also helped keep the Voluntary Action Center afloat during uncertain times.
"We were just so shocked and pleased by the response that our agency got," Rogers said. "We’re fortunate. I think we’re very valued in the community and, certainly, we very much value the community we serve."
Rogers says she’s hopeful after the budget resolution. But she doesn’t think they will be able to reopen closed programs or expand some existing programs.
As for Meals on Wheels, Rogers says that, with continued community support, she doesn’t anticipate being as desperate as they were last year.