Coalition details who's owed what by deadbeat Illinois

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We've all gotten a little numb as Illinois' financial crisis has continued to deepen — for good reason. Figures like $5 billion in unpaid bills are kind of hard to grasp.

Maybe the following will end the numbness. It certainly shocked me.

An alliance of social-services providers has just received and passed on to me results of a Freedom of Information Act request it submitted to Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes' office.

The list details who's owed what. In particular, down to the cent, the data being released by Illinois Partners for Human Services lists $490,314,860.75 owed to tax-exempt, non-profit organizations —many of them certified charities that lead a precarious life in the best of times.

A stunning 136 groups are owed at least $1 million each, with the outstanding IOUs stretching back as far as December 2009, according to the comptroller's office.

Some are big groups, like Catholic Charities (owed $8.6 million) and DePaul University ($7.2 million). They likely have resources and friends and thus the ability to survive, though with pain.

But there are dozens of little groups owed more than a million. Like Grand Prairie Services on the West Side ($2.6 million). Or the Ounce of Prevention Fund ($2.3 million) or Proviso Family Services ($1.5 million).

They provide good enough services — be it trying to rehabilitate drug users, deal with troubled teens or provide homes for battered women — that the state uses them, and has approved their bills for payment. But there's no money.

Another 465 groups are owed more than $100,000 each, according to the data, obtained by Amy Terpstra, associate director of the research arm of the Heartland Alliance.

All in all, the state as of June 30 or so owed $1.3 billion to organizations that provide services to families, kids, the elderly and the ill, Ms. Terpstra's data show.

And that, of course, is on top of the $1.3 billion owed to schools, $964 million owed to other government units like the Chicago Transit Authority, $278 million to the University of Illinois, etc.

Those governments have ways to deal with their problems. The CTA raised fares, U of I raised tuition. But those social-service groups can't readily raise their fees from clients who often have little money.

Illinois Partners for Human Services Co-chair Nancy Ronquillo — who in her day job heads a kids' welfare group, Children's Home and Aid — says the latter at the moment is owed $2.5 million for services for foster children, infant welfare and the like.

"We are on a line of credit to make payroll," she says — a line that costs 5% interest to maintain. The agency has eliminated 30 of its 725 jobs and begun holding off on all but critical expenses, she adds.

"If a kid needs a new pair of gym shoes, we'll still buy them," she said. But that line of credit not only needs to be paid but is not unlimited if the state's bill-paying gets even slower.

Look through the list for yourself, and you may see a charity or two of your acquaintance.

Ada S. McKinley Community Services and Springfield Arc. LaRabida Children's Hospital, where I spent some time long ago, and Counseling Center for Seniors.

It's a sobering list. We the people, through our government, decided to hire them. Now we need to pay them.