Assistance for battered women and children statewide is dwindling because of Illinois' budget impasse, and it could have long-lasting consequences, according to state-funded organizations that help domestic violence victims.
A southern Illinois shelter offering protection to families in emergencies has closed its doors. The head of a Chicago group that provides counseling is working without pay, a strategy that directors at a Centralia organization have also used. Other nonprofits are laying off employees, blowing through reserves or borrowing money to keep up with rent, payroll and utilities as the state enters its fourth month without an approved spending plan.
For most nonprofit groups and agencies — the backbone of Illinois' social services network— late payments for services and budget cuts have become business as usual. But veteran advocates say the pure uncertainty of the current situation is unprecedented, and hits rural areas particularly hard. There's no sign that legislative Democrats and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner are close to a deal, and hardly anyone knows what a new budget would look like for the cash-strapped state.
"We're just hanging on," said Tolleyene Ray, a director of People Against Violent Environments in Centralia.
The southeastern Illinois organization, which offers front-line services like legal assistance for protective orders in five counties, shut its doors for two months. It was later paid for services provided last year and now operates on a limited basis to stretch dollars. Ray takes crisis hotline calls at home. Much of her time has been unpaid.
Attention to the budget's ripple effects spiked Thursday with rallies in Chicago and Springfield, where advocates called for a solution. Democrats want Rauner to sign off on tax increases, because the state is billions of dollars in debt, but Rauner first wants pro-business reforms.
In the meantime, Illinois is spending at unsustainable rates due to state statues and court orders, though a few areas, like domestic abuse services, remain in limbo without a budget.
As a result, A Safe Place, with facilities in Zion and Waukegan, has turned away those seeking emergency shelter. It can only afford to operate nine of its 35 beds and has scaled back on counseling that helps women in the far northeastern part of the state escape abuse.
The situation is especially tough in southern Illinois, home to some of the state's poorest counties. The closure of a single facility can amplify a dangerous domestic situation, advocates say, providing women fewer options and further distances to drive. Those who've provided social service for years warn such hardships could contribute to higher unemployment, violence and long-term psychological problems.
The Effingham-based nonprofit Stopping Woman Abuse Now, Inc., gets most of its $1.3 million operating budget from the state. It has closed two shelters — one for domestic abuse victims and one for homeless people — an hour away in Olney, according to executive director Linda Bookwalter. She said there are few opportunities to fundraise.
"We're a rural area. We're not where there are large companies who can give us big grants," she said. "We struggle."
There's also the added worry of having to trim staff and what that will mean for those still employed. Yesenia Maldonado, the executive director of Chicago-based Between Friends, said she's working without a paycheck.
Unless there's a budget deal, the avenues of relief are few. A bill authorizing roughly $2 billion in social services spending has been approved by the Senate, and awaits House consideration, though it isn't clear whether Rauner would sign off. Lawmakers return to Springfield on Oct. 20.
A Chicago Democrat who sits on a human services committee estimated that up to 75,000 people could be impacted in some way without domestic violence services. "We need revenue," Sen. Heather Steans said.
But Rauner spokeswoman Lyndsey Walters said structural reforms will free up resources to help the most vulnerable.
"Unfortunately, the majority party continues to block the governor's reforms," she said in a statement.
The back-and-forth is especially troubling to Myra Sarabia, who left an abusive marriage more than a decade ago. The Chicago mother of three turned to state-subsidized services to file a protective order and pay for child care so she could work and afford to move out. Now an advocate, she reflects on what it would be like without the state's help.
"I don't know if I would be here," she said.