Rockford-area service agencies fear worst of recession isn’t over

Thursday, July 22, 2010

LOVES PARK — Staff members at Illinois Growth Enterprises were celebrating last month — the end of the fiscal year — after making sacrifices during the past 12 months to keep the organization afloat.

Then, state officials pulled the rug out from under them.
The agency, which provides vocational training to more than 200 adults with disabilities, learned that an $834,000 grant had been cut from its budget. Nine positions were eliminated as was the second shift, effective this week.

The changes are becoming chapters in a familiar story for human services providers since Gov. Pat Quinn announced $1.4 billion in budget cuts earlier this month to chip away at the state’s massive $13 billion deficit. Human services took a $312.6 million hit, and many specifics are still being identified.

Agency leaders are worried that more bad news might be on the way.

“It’s frustrating because on June 30, the staff was meeting to celebrate the best year we’ve had in five years,” said Don Thayer, the agency’s CEO. “Our people are a vulnerable population that want to work. They get personal satisfaction out of their careers ... I’ve only identified half of what I need to do.”

Some of the agencies are losing grant funding because they opted not to convert the money into Medicaid waiver programs, which the state was asking them to do because federal matching funds are available. Officials with Illinois Growth Enterprises and The Arc of Winnebago, Boone and Ogle Counties said some of their clients are eligible for Medicaid but not necessarily all of them.

Converting the funding would have meant serving fewer people, and that’s not something they were willing to do.
“The state may be able to break contracts with clients, but we feel committed to supporting and maintaining programs,” Thayer said.

Matt Toohey, executive director of Access Services of Northern Illinois, said he’s expecting that the Department of Human Services might issue revised contracts within the next several weeks. He’s heard that additional cuts could be around 3.3 percent.

“I think it’s going to be a lot worse than we thought,” Toohey said.

A big concern is that Quinn has been given ultimate budget power through the beginning of January, and local agency leaders think he may choose to delay state payments for services even longer. He’s allowed to delay fiscal 2010 payments until the end of this year even though the fiscal year ended June 30.

That means agencies may not see payments for the first half of fiscal 2011 until the middle of next year.

Arc Executive Director Jacki Neil Boss said the organization has been running lean for several years, long enough that she estimates the agency is back to 1995 operating levels. The Arc, which serves adults and children with developmental disabilities, lost all of its family support state grant money this year, funds that supported programs for about 80 people.

Like Illinois Growth Enterprises, The Arc is still committed to running the programs. But finding additional sources of revenue has become increasingly challenging.
The Arc is taking a different approach to its biggest and most popular fundraiser this year, the Great Home Giveaway. The giveaway winner has the option of winning a house or choosing $100,000 in cash this year.

Tickets are available online, and Neil Boss is hoping the giveaway will get some national attention because of the cash prize option so the group can sell more tickets.
“The state has been nickel-and-diming us for at least the last 10 years,” Neil Boss said. “We are turning over every stone to find additional funding to continue funding these programs.

“We have been here since 1966, and they’re not going to close us.”

Thayer at Illinois Growth is hoping to partner with more local businesses moving forward. The organization already does high-quality contract packaging and assembly for Canon USA, Dasco Pro Products, Pepsi, ThermoFisher Scientific and other manufacturers.

Illinois Growth also has a 175,000-square-foot facility on Clinton Road in Loves Park with extra space for storage and projects. Thayer is hoping to expand job placement opportunities for clients at local businesses so more clients can move into the facility.