The Beacon News

Candidates speak out on social services

Monday, September 20, 2010

ST. CHARLES — The 22 candidates for state and county offices didn't exactly preach to the choir, even though they gathered at a church. In the audience were representatives of 21 social service agencies, clients and families who rely on the programs of social service agencies in Kane County.

"Our state is in real trouble and we can point fingers how we got here, but we need to help the people who need the services," said State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora.

Chapa LaVia said state law allows counties to approve a levy for developmental disabilities treatment purposes, but it is only one solution and the state needs to look for revenue enhancements elsewhere.

"I wholeheartedly hope everyone understands it is not about being a Republican or Democrat — it is about being a citizen of Illinois providing the services that everyone deserves," she said to applause.

About 400 people packed Christ Community Church in St. Charles, where the only the preacher in the room was the Rev. Nathaniel Edmond of Second Baptist Church of Elgin. The format confined candidates to three minutes each, so Edmond told them to forget the resume and focus on funding solutions.

Linda Healy, Democratic candidate for state representative in the 50th District, said she came to the forum with no notes because she's lived with the funding cuts for the last 23 years as the former executive director of Mutual Ground, an Aurora domestic violence shelter.

"I have worked with most of you and know what it is like every year to be cut further and further, while those at our doors continue to increase," Healy said.

"If (Springfield) wants to know how to do more with less, just ask any of the executive directors that have been the recipients of the decisions that have been made," Healy said to another round of applause.

Healy, too, said it is time to eliminate partisan politics: "I have respect for people in both parties but when they won't talk to each other ... no work is being done."

The purpose of Thursday's forum was to inform candidates seeking election on Nov. 2 of the growing need for social services among seniors and individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, mental health and substance abuse, even though government and charitable funds have declined.

"We have more than 24,000 Kane County residents who rely on social services day-to-day to make life work for them," said Lynn O'Shea of the Association for Individual Development, one of the sponsoring agencies for Thursday's forum. O'Shea said thousands of people have lost eligibility for services or have had their services reduced. In the last five years, AID has had a 25 percent cut in its revenue, she said.

"Last year we served about 5,000 clients (but) this year it will be probably down to 4,000 people with all of the cuts — it is really devastating," she said.

"We have had two instances of people we sent home because they were no longer eligible for our mental health services committed suicide — people are literally dying over these cuts," O'Shea said.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, said the state is in a pathetic financial condition.

"We need to recognize the problems of out-of-control spending, corruption and disincentives to employ people," Lauzen said. Lauzen said the state has been crying "poor" for the last eight years but the trend for spending has increased.

Lauzen's Democratic challenger in the Nov. 2 election, Leslie Juby, said it is time to protect funding for educational special needs programs and increase accessibility for family housing and resources for people with autism.

"It is time to consolidate our government and return more powers to people at a local level," she said.

Steve Rauschenberger of Elgin, a former Republican state senator who is running for the Senate again in the 22nd District against incumbent Mike Noland, D-Elgin, said state government needs to renew its commitment to stewardship, keep its commitments and re-embark on a partnership in deciding public policy for individuals with needs.

“Most other states have not chosen to use human services as a point of budget cuts in these extraordinary times,” Rauschenberger said.

Former state Rep. Ruth Munson, R-Elgin, is running against incumbent Keith Farnham, D-Elgin, for the 43rd District representative seat. She said Springfield needs people who understand every decision they make “affects somebody like you.”