Chicago — The state of Illinois owes Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago $25 million and counting.
The continued budget impasse threatens to unravel the myriad social services provided to the most vulnerable Illinoisans, Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, told the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper.
In addition to the $25 million it is owed, Catholic Charities, one of the state's largest social service agencies, floats the state more than $2 million each month.
Administrative budget cuts and cash reserves have kept Catholic Charities from closing down programs so far, but the situation is becoming critical, said Boland, who is urging people to contact elected officials -- especially Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan -- and push for a budget.
On Feb. 19, the agency sent a letter to all pastors in the archdiocese requesting support from parishioners in contacting state legislators and calling for them to pass a budget.
That same day, DePaul University, one of the nation's largest Catholic institutions of higher education, announced it would cover all of the state-funded Monetary Award Program awards for 4,500 current students. Earlier that week, Rauner vetoed a measure that would have funded the program, known as MAP, which provides grants to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need.
"DePaul University is disappointed that the political impasse has resulted in the state's failure to meet its obligation of providing MAP awards to students in the state of Illinois," Vincentian Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, DePaul's president, said in a statement.
"In keeping with our Catholic Vincentian mission, DePaul is announcing today that it will honor the Monetary Award Program grants awarded by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to DePaul students this year," he said. "That means 4,500 current DePaul students can be certain the university will stand with them during this impasse."
Holtschneider also noted that "thousands of high school students in Illinois are currently choosing which college to attend in the fall."
"Uncertainty about MAP funding should not create additional anxiety in making the college choice that best meets their academic and career goals," he continued. "Therefore, DePaul will honor the MAP grant next year for all new entering students -- freshman or transfer -- who applied for financial aid by the cutoff date to be announced by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, if the state continues at a budgetary impasse into next year."
The state-run commission oversees the Monetary Award Program.
In the past few weeks, the Chicago Archdiocese's Catholic Charities has reached out to government leaders and the news media urging for an end to the budget impasse.
According to a Feb. 21 AP story, the state "remains far from passing a budget." It said Rauner wants state lawmakers to approve measures such as a freeze on property taxes, changes in workers' compensation and other reforms that he says are business friendly and would draw more businesses to the state and improve the economy. In exchange, he would approve a full $36 billion budget, which would include raising taxes, AP reported.
While Catholic Charities raises about $25 million privately each year, a large portion of the agency's $200 million budget comes from government contracts.
"There are certain times when the state will contract with organizations like Catholic Charities because they believe Catholic Charities has the expertise, has the commitment, the professional way of doing services, and mainly because we're already out in the communities," Boland said.
For example, for Catholic Charities staff to visit a senior at home for a well-being check, it may cost $3,000 to $5,000 a year. Nursing home care, which the state would have to pay for if these seniors could not remain in their homes, carries a price tag of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
The programs most endangered by the state budget impasse serve the needs of at-risk seniors, children, and veterans.
"The larger issue is that Catholic Charities in many ways is a safety net. And once you start unraveling that safety net," the poor become even more vulnerable, the priest told the Catholic New World. If an early childhood program closes, for example, the mother or father cannot work because she or he must stay home to take care of the children. Without a steady paycheck, that family will spiral even deeper into poverty.
Many clients receive more than one service, since many of Catholic Charities' services are interconnected. For example, a senior who receives Meals on Wheels, which Catholic Charities administers in Lake and southern Cook counties, also might receive well-being checks. Boland calls these "wraparound" services.
"If the senior is at home, then you wrap services around the senior so they can stay at home," he said. "You bring services to the person."
Every 30 seconds, someone in Cook or Lake counties contacts Catholic Charities for help at one of its 160 locations. If the agency were to cut 20 percent of its programs, 200,000 people would be impacted -- a population about the size of Aurora, a Chicago suburb.
While Catholic Charities relies on a staff of 3,000, they also have 15,000 volunteers -- many from local parishes -- to administer services.
"It's really a mission of the parishes and the church that Catholic Charities is a part of. We're not a separate entity that's out there doing government work," Boland said.
Catholic Charities isn't ready to say how much longer they can go on without the money it is owed by the state.
"We're trying to say that this [budget impasse] can't go on indefinitely, and we are really pushing as much as we can to not have to make those cuts [to service programs]," he said.
Because other smaller nonprofits could not afford to stay open without state funding, Catholic Charities is seeing a swell in people seeking their services. Lutheran Social Services of Illinois cited the state budget crisis in January when it laid off 750 people across the state and cut services to 4,700 clients.
Every client who comes to Catholic Charities is a person with dignity and struggles, Boland said, and worrying about not being able to help them has given him "many sleepless nights."
"In 25 years, I've never seen this. I've never seen a stalemate go this long," he said.