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With No State Budget, Domestic Violence Programs Worry About Future

State lawmakers in Springfield and Gov. Bruce Rauner have been unable to agree on a budget, and that has some domestic violence programs worried as state aid runs out. Flickr/Randy von Liski

Tony Arnold

Organizations that serve victims of domestic violence are about to stop receiving money from the Illinois state government because lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner have not approved a full budget.

Last year when the state government faced a similar scenario, the Democrat-controlled legislature and Rauner struck a deal to release state funds for lottery winners, salt for roads and more than $18 million for domestic violence shelters.

Another deal was struck in June of 2016 for a six month spending plan for most state services.

But domestic violence organizations were not included in that plan.

Now, managers of domestic violence organizations are trying to figure out what happens if there is once again no state budget. 

“It’s gonna be a hard year,” said Jane Farmer of the Turning Point program in Woodstock, Ill. 

Farmer said last year, the organization received more than 2,600 crisis calls -- and she’s expecting a similar number of calls in 2017. She said she is thinking of taking out a loan and leaving a position vacant until there’s a budget.

Vickie Smith, who heads the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an organization that lobbies on behalf of domestic violence programs, said organizations across Illinois could face dire situations if the political feud in Springfield continues.

“I’m forever an optimist (and) that at some point people -- all people -- involved in these discussions are going to realize that you can’t starve the state to death in order to prove your point,” Smith said. 

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services said that while domestic violence groups are not getting regular state payments, some organizations are receiving special state funds and federal money. 

“We fully intend to pay all domestic violence programs that have contracts with the state in full once the General Assembly passes a balanced budget alongside meaningful structural reforms,” said DHS spokeswoman Meghan Powers in a statement.

Rauner has said that structural reforms from his so-called Turnaround Agenda should be approved in tandem with a state budget. In recent months he has narrowed down his agenda to terms limits for state lawmakers and a freeze on property taxes. Rauner has said those two changes would help grow the state’s tax base and show businesses that Illinois is making substantial changes in the face of its large financial burdens.

Democrats in the legislature have wholly rejected Rauner’s political agenda, saying it would hurt the middle class and should not be a condition for passing a state budget. 

That dispute has been at the heart of the budget impasse since Rauner took office in 2015. It even continues now, as the current state spending plan expires at the end of month and there have been no meetings between Rauner’s administration and Democratic leaders in two weeks. 

The impasse is also the subject of a lawsuit from 61 social service agencies against the State of Illinois. This week, those social services - which include homeless shelters, early childhood education and assistance for senior citizens living at home - took their case to the Illinois Appellate Court. 

In their appellate brief, social service providers argue they’re owed state money for work they were contracted to do and there’s “no coherent rationale” for the state’s failure to pay them. The temporary payment plan passed in June, they argue, only partially pays them for their work and “is a permanent impairment or ‘haircut’ as to the amount due to plaintiffs.” 

“If not outright fraud, the conduct of (the state) would constitute an ‘unfair trade practice,’” the social services later argue in their legal filing. 

Without much explanation, a Cook County judge ruled against those social services earlier this year - deciding the state did not break its contracts by not paying those agencies. Attorneys for the state argued judges don’t have the power to create a budget; lawmakers and the governor do that.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him at @tonyjarnold.