Social agency closes as state funds get cut

July 2, 2009 (CHICAGO) An agency that helps the developmentally disabled on Chicago's West Side now has to turn away many clients. That's because it's not getting enough money from the state.

Unlike Illinois budget battles of past years, the effects of this year's struggle are not happening in the abstract.

During the past 42 hours, hundreds of human services agencies all over the state have scaled back their operations. Many of those most affected are incapable of understanding the problem or the politics driving it.

Warick Ellis and dozens of other developmentally disabled adults in a sheltered workshop are the faces and voices of doomsday. Habilitative Systems on the West Side will close their program at the end of business on Thursday because the 31-year-old agency's state grant was cut by 50 percent.

"I don't want nothing like this to happen, because this place has been here many years," said Marcell Wilson.

Dorothy Adams wonders what she'll do tomorrow. Her cousin, 38-year-old Gidget, will for the first time in 18 years have to spend the daytime hours she spends at the program at home.

"She's going to be there more. I don't know how that's going to work out, being there seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I don't know how that's going to work out," said Dorothy Adams, Gidget's guardian.

Ninety percent of the funding for Habilitative Services, Inc. comes from the state. It also has programs for children, the elderly and drug addicted. Beginning on Thursday, it will end services to over 2,000 of its 7,000 total clients and layoff half its 200 workers.

"People are actually being affected. Staff are being affected, clients are being affected. We're talking about the kind of impact that's never been seen before," said Donald Dew, CEO, Habilitative Services.

Meanwhile, at the Thompson Center in downtown, Gov. Pat Quinn met with female lawmakers, virtually all of whom have heard from similarly affected agencies in their districts.

"I'm really concerned. This is the most concerned I've ever been in all the years I've been here because of what we're doing. We're ruining the infrastructure of human services in Illinois," said Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, (R) Des Plaines.

Warick Ellis also will miss the small amount of money he makes in the workshop. For him, getting another job or safe place to go everyday is unlikely.

"This is our home. This is just like home, being away from home. We don't want to be kicked out of our homes," said Ellis.

Even though budget negotiations continue between the governor and lawmakers, the agencies must make their cuts now. Even the governor says money the agencies are spending now might not be reimbursed should a tax increase not be approved.

Charles has more on the political beat in his Precinct 7 Blog.

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