Social service agency struggles amid budget stalemate

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Centro Romoro, which receives half of its funding from the state, has had to turn away thousands of clients. (WLS)

A North Side social service agency that serves immigrants and refugees may have to make even deeper cuts if the state's ongoing budget crisis continues.

Like so many agencies that rely on state funding, Centro Romero in the Edgewater neighborhood never thought the budget crisis would last this long. State lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal by the end of the Legislature's regular session on Tuesday.

Centro Romero, a 30-year-old agency which a budget that consists of 50 percent of state funding, has had to come up with creative ways to continue operation.

Staff said they are determined to keep their doors open. However, it will be a huge challenge.

Martha Ochoa volunteers at Centro Romero. She was a paid teacher here until the state budget crisis forced several layoffs, which meant eliminating classes, including the Spanish GED program.

"You are here with people, everyday so they become part of you part of us, you can't help them it is very hard to turn away very hard," Ochoa said.

ABC7 first reported on Centro Romero's dire situation last year. Since then, the agency has been forced to turn away thousands of clients.

"It's really frustrating to not know what is going to happen to this program you have built for 30 years," said Dena Giacometti, Centro Romero adult education director.

Giacometti said during the past year, Centro Romero has limped along with volunteers and creative funding, but many services are now gone, including citizenship classes and child care.

"Many of the students we are no longer able to service are moms who rely on child care services without child care services they no longer come to class," Giacometti said.

With a budget impasse entering into its second year, Giacometti said the agency is considering eliminating its evening adult education program, which could be problematic for Carlos Monterroso, 32, who is in the process of getting his GED.

"If you want to get a good job, you have to have some type of degree education, it helps," Monterroso said.

Centro Romero has scaled back its legal services as well.

Since so many social service agencies are in the same financial situation, Centro Romero staff doubts the clients they have turned away have been able to get help anywhere else. And they haven't been able to keep track of them so they have no idea what has happened to them.
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