When the legislature returns to session next month it must address the state’s budget problems and mountain of unpaid bills. There is no escaping the fact that cuts must be made along with reforms and more revenue. When we talk about cuts, I found a letter from Dave McClure, Executive Director of the Youth Services Bureau of Illinois Valley in LaSalle thought provoking. Cuts must be made carefully and with an eye toward unintended consequences. I welcome your comments and input on state spending priorities.
Cutting the Budget Affects People (Comments by Dave McClure)
I was in Springfield last Friday to hear from a member of Governor Quinn’s administration. Our statewide association of youth service providers invited him to speak and he came prepared. It was clear this state employee thought of how to address a roomful of advocates who had lived through last year’s budget debacle and despite their private-not-for-profit agency not being paid by the state since June of 2009, were still in business in January. The main points of his speech follow, mixed in with my comments.
In 1996, just before Bill Clinton reformed America’s welfare system, 250,000 families in Illinois received what most people think of as welfare checks. In reality those checks were paid from a program known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Those were payments made to low income parents so that they could in theory remain at home and care for their children, at huge expense to government. By and large that system was dismantled nationwide by capping those benefits. Parents were encouraged to go to work. And they did… in droves.
In 2009 Illinois had just 28,000 families receiving AFDC payments. That was a huge savings to Illinois government but it was not accomplished without reinvesting some of those savings. One of the significant investments which made it possible for parents to return to work was a redefinition of income standards qualifying families for subsidized day care. AFDC payments sunk, day care subsidy payments rose, with the end result a big net savings to government. Welfare reform was successful.
Then came the 2010 budget. The Governor and legislative leaders proposed a “Doomsday Budget” designed to shock elected officials into passing a tax increase. It didn’t happen. In the myriad of drastic cuts contained in that doomsday budget was a 50 percent cut to subsidized day care. I’m no accountant, but I immediately figured, without looking at the numbers, that either half the people who used to be eligible for a day care subsidy would suddenly not be, or that all of the people who were previously eligible would suddenly get only half as much.
Keep in mind it is easy, almost effortless, to make these cuts. It’s done for the most part on a computer spreadsheet. For a 50 percent cut you can divide the number by two or multiply it by point five and presto chango you’ve got a smaller number. If it’s in a column of numbers it re adds the column automatically and gives you a new total. Similarly you can reduce a whole wad of numbers by making one click on the computer screen. It’s living with the results when they are applied to real people that proves difficult.
If there was one group of people who in the middle of the state budget fiasco personified “deer in the headlights” it was the parents at our day care center. They wanted to know and we wanted to tell them what would happen if the budget cuts as presented came true. When we told them the state was planning to cut their support in half they, being also quite able to do math in their heads, got the picture quickly.
The single parent working at an entry level job or attending school so she can get a better job– struggling to pay a car repair bill that has to be paid so she can continue to get to work or school– needs child care.
Apparently our protests, as social service providers, worked on that particular cut. The governor’s office was persuaded that those expenditures were part of the deal in 1996 for getting families off the AFDC rolls, and cooler heads with an appreciation for facts and the consequences not represented on a computer spreadsheet, prevailed. Day care subsidies stayed whole.
That didn’t happen universally because as the governor’s representative pointed out state government and the activities it supports with funding in Illinois, are big. “The scope is far larger than we can appreciate or imagine.” Some bad stuff gets by because no one can keep it all in their heads. Like probation subsidies. Illinois state government partially funds counties to maintain probation officers.
They created a mandate of service standards years ago and promised funding for counties to meet them. Those subsidies suffered a substantial cut in the final budget as adopted. Then one day a high ranking official in the judicial branch of Illinois government, which oversees court services like probation, called a similarly high ranking official at the executive branch. He pointed out that as a result of the large cuts to probation subsidies, decision makers in Illinois’ 102 counties– strapped for money themselves– were planning to lay off probation officers and return criminals on probation to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
This would be a huge cost to the state so I imagined it as one of those “duh” moments when you hit your forehead and realize the unintended consequences of something you’ve done. And so they fixed that by raising, not fully restoring, the subsidy enough to head off such action by the counties.
The revenue shortfall in Illinois is estimated at $11 Billion by some, $15 Billion by others. For an Illinois budget that totals $53 Billion dollars that’s a 21 percent shortfall at best, 28 percent at worst.
Try to wrap your head around that shortfall. For me it’s like thinking of infinity. Technically it’s finite, but so big that it stretches me beyond normal thinking. Now it’s your turn to think about the budget.
Comments from Dave McClure, Executive Director of the Youth Services Bureau of Illinois Valley, LaSalle shared with his permission.
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