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Social service providers describe devastation of Illinois' budget impasse

'I have never seen anything like this before'

ELGIN – Gretchen Vapnar, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Elgin, described a situation so shocking, she said she has never seen it before.

“They pull up in front of our door … and they tell the person in the back seat to get out and ring the bell,” Vapnar said. “And she turns out to be an elderly woman who does not know why she is there and who does not have any idea that the car has just driven away.”

Vapnar said the shelter experienced this abandonment of an elderly woman – presumably by family caregivers – twice in the last two months. Case management required at least three agencies to sift through each person’s situation for days, trying to figure out what to do, Vapnar said.

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years. I have never seen anything like this before,” Vapnar said. “It’s shocking. And it does show not only the inter-relatedness [of services], but the situation people can find themselves in when they have fallen through every crack. Not just one crack, but every crack.”

Vapnar was among representatives of nine social service agencies impacted by the impasse that has left Illinois without a budget for going on three years.

At a press conference June 26 at the United Way Elgin office, representatives that serve those with mental illness, disabilities, the elderly, those with addictions and those affected by domestic violence spoke about their struggle to continue providing services.

This was the third press conference regarding the impact on human services hosted by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County.

Lawmakers were invited, but Jean Pierce, president of the League, said they could not attend as they were in special session to deal with the ongoing budget crisis.

Lynn O’Shea, president of the Association for Individual Development, said the agency is owed $1.4 million and its state grant programs were already cut by $1 million. The group fundraises $2 million per year to bridge that gap, she said.

Also of concern are proposed cuts to Medicaid in the new health care plans, as AID depends on that funding.

“Where will they go with no Medicaid to support them?” O’Shea said of those her agency serves. “Without Medicaid, we will have no services.”

Providing community-based service is more cost-effective than using state hospitals and facilities, O’Shea said.

A state facility costs $230,000 per year person, while community-based care costs $23,000 a per year for one person, O’Shea said.

Gil Fonger, president of Marklund, said he is in charge of providing care to profoundly mentally and physically challenged children and adults. And personally, Fonger said he also has a special-needs daughter.

“We operate on less than 2 percent cash margin,” Fonger said. “There is a $17,000 gap for every individual we serve, and we have to keep making do. It is a struggle ”

The current proposed cuts for Medicaid services at $800 billion in the House health care bill – and President Donald Trump’s budget cut of $700 billion over the next 10 years – would leave agencies like Marklund unable to function, Fonger said.

“We can’t afford a cut,” Fonger said.

Fonger also did not support Medicaid block grants to states, saying the money would just be “passed around to politically motivated operatives."

Karen Beyer, executive director of the Ecker Center for Mental Health in Elgin, said the state asks more from providers while it pays them less and less.

“The state did not pay on our contracted grants for a year,” Beyer said. “The state does not take its contracts with providers seriously.”

Also devastating was the state eliminating all grants for psychiatry services and for those who do not have Medicaid, Beyer said.

“It is a service needed by people with mental illness,” Beyer said. “Now we have 114 people waiting for a medical service that they need because of a brain disease.”

Michelle Meyer, executive director of Mutual Ground Inc. in Aurora, which serves battered women and survivors of sexual assault, said the budget impasse has forced them to let staff go and turn people away.

The organization has had to rely on its reserves – funds which were intended to expand their programs – not subsidize state funding, Meyer said.

“We are serving crime victims. In my opinion, the state has ignored the crime victims. It’s not their fault,” Meyer said. “I implore legislators to get this fixed and take care of the people you are responsible for in the state of Illinois.”

A video of the press conference is available by visiting and searching for "League of Women Voters of Central Kane County."

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