Mar 22, 2016 5:29 PM
Illinois budget impasse spurs creative way to fund shelters
The Associated Press
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) Illinois homeless shelters struggling to get by without state aid during the budget stalemate could get a much-needed financial boost through specialty scratch-off lottery tickets.
A bipartisan measure pending in the Illinois Legislature would create a new $3 scratch ticket and designate all the proceeds beyond administrative costs and prize money for grants to help shelters that serve the tens of thousands of homeless people statewide.
As social service providers suffer statewide without government aid, the proposal demonstrates one instance in which lawmakers are scrambling to find a way to sustain funding for one of the many programs that can no longer operate at full capacity. The failure of the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to agree on a budget that should've taken effect July 1 has left many social service providers facing uncertain futures.
The Illinois Department of Human Services, which provides programming for the state's homeless, youth and disabled, owes over 800 private contractors about $168 million in back payments. And every day that goes by without a budget adds to an already staggering state debt. Comptroller Leslie Munger said the state's backlogged bills could total $10 billion by June 30.
"(My plan) is a creative way to address homelessness in our area and create a long term path toward independency among this population," said south suburban Chicago Democrat Rep. Thaddeus Jones, one of three legislators sponsoring the bill. He said his proposal is one way to fund human services without adding more costs to the still undecided budget.
Jones said he also wants the tickets to bring awareness to homeless youth and veterans in a state where homelessness affects about 38,000 people, according to a 2014 Department of Human Services report on state funded shelters.
Helping Hands of Springfield is one Illinois shelter housing over 40 adult men and women a night that could benefit from Jones' plan. Its executive director, Rod Lane, said that while Jones' proposal is a good idea, he would prefer predictable and timely payments from the state.
"Any money would be beneficial, but our hope is to get funding restored," Lane said.
Lane said he expects the location will close its doors on weekends to non-residents who come to shower, eat and retreat from inclement weather because it can't pay employees to work weekend and overnight shifts. It takes about $200,000 to operate the shelter annually. About $100,000 of the shelter's funding that would have come from the state has not been funded because of the budget impasse.
But Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican who has been outspoken in his opposition to piecemeal budgeting, said he's concerned a new scratch-off game could divert consumer money from other causes. Specialty games that have been approved by the Legislature include support for cancer research, HIV/AIDS awareness, veteran support, Multiple Sclerosis and the Special Olympics.
"To add another one, you're telling the department how to market games and which ones are viable," Harris said. "There are probably a hundred different causes one would say deserve a scratch-off game."
The budget standoff also has sparked calls to use private money to pay for such things as the Illinois State Museum, which the governor ordered closed last October, and the Springfield and DuQuoin Fairgrounds. At a news conference Tuesday, Rauner said transferring the state's burden to donors would allow more public money to go to human services and schools.
While it's unknown how much money the homeless specialty ticket could generate in revenue, the specialty ticket benefiting veterans, also priced at $3, has donated over $10 million in the past decade.
The state's lottery generated about $2.8 billion in sales last year.
The Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services Program, which helps over 700 homeless youth find shelter and food, was forced to end its program in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that served about 75 youth in February because it couldn't afford operating costs. However, the group's outreach programs in East St. Louis remain open.
Jassen Strokosch, communications director for Children's Home and Aid, said the youth homeless prevention program costs the state about $200 per youth each month.
"We have generous donors who have helped keep those programs open," Strokosch said. "The reality is we know where youth end up without these programs. They end up incarcerated, abused, neglected and wards of the state."
HB 5562 : http://www.ilga.gov
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