State budget could hurt disabled population

June 21, 2009 (CHICAGO) This is nothing new, as resources for the disabled population have been under-funded for years. The state of Illinois may be among the top 10 richest states, but it is number 51 in funding programs for residents with various disabilities. As the clock continues to tick for a budget increase, Chicago area organizations are worried about the future for the people they serve and their employees.

"State funding has been gradually reduced over the last several years, making all of our jobs more difficult, but this is the most difficult circumstance that I have seen or witnessed," said Kristen Macrae, president of an organization call CARC.

"The state is proposing a 50 percent cut in our budgets, and my state funding is right now about $24 billion, and I'm looking at about $12 million of that money be cut as a result of what the state is doing at this point," said Gerge Jones, executive director of Ada McKinley Services.

"I suspect a lot of people will end up homeless, people will end up in the criminal justice system, people will end up in hospitals and psychiatric units of hospitals," President and CEO of Anxiter Center Allan Bergman said.

"We're already going backwards. You know, public mental health in Illinois had cuts last year. For three or four years before, we had absolutely no increase at all," Thresholds CEO Tony Zipple said.

These are just a few of the top administrators from some of Chicago's largest organizations serving people with disabilities. They are largely funded by the state.

"From the six agencies represented here today, state funding is about $118 million of out our total budgets of $178 million. So, it's about two-thirds," said Bergman.

Lack of funding means cuts in both services and jobs. Greg Polman from Chicago Lighthouse says without future funding, there will be an impact on the quality of education for children who are blind and visually impaired.

"We have a material center where we provide almost 4,000 youth in Illinois from kindergarten to 12th grade with accessible text books and assisted technology," Polman said.

Over the last several years, Illinois' disabled organizations have not received any funding increase.

"We've all managed somehow to continue to provide quality services to people, but when you look at the fact, it's becoming so much more difficult," said Macrae.

"Twenty percent lighter than we were five years ago, and that really hurts people who are homeless. It hurts people who are on the street; twenty-five to 35 percent have major mental illness. We're really struggling to provide these services they need," Zipple said.

"No one agency certainly can cover the broad base of disabilities. You need these agencies," said Jones.

Without state funding, Sherry Ann Kline, who works at Ada McKinley service, will no longer have a job.

"I will be sitting home watching TV," she said.

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