Bruce Rauner

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks in March at a news conference in Chicago.


SPRINGFIELD — The largest poverty-fighting network in Illinois is turning away thousands of vulnerable residents and laying off an estimated 1,500 workers in response to the state's lingering budget standoff.

As the stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly enters its second week, community action agencies across the state began curtailing services to poor people because of the loss of state funding.

At the Shawnee Development Council, for example, executive director Denna Williams said 16 of the Karnak-based agency's 23 employees have been laid off because of the budget mess.

The organization has temporarily closed offices in Anna, Cairo, Metropolis and Elizabethtown and the remaining employees are working a shorter day. An office at Shawnee Community College also has been shuttered.

"We're just kind of taking it a couple of weeks at a time," Williams said Monday.

The state ended its fiscal year on June 30 without a full spending plan in place, triggering layoffs at many not-for-profit service providers that are no longer being paid by the state.

At issue is a push by Rauner to enact a number of policy changes he says will benefit businesses and increase economic growth. Democrats have balked at his proposals to weaken labor unions and change workplace injury laws.

Without an agreement, Rauner says he won't support a tax increase that could cushion cuts to state programs.

There are 36 community action agencies that address poverty through programs and services serving more than 1 million individuals in all 102 counties.

"We are deeply concerned that our working families who are struggling will fall deeper into poverty because they will not be able to get help from our agencies,” said Dalitso Sulamoyo, president and CEO of the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies. “Illinois’ budget should be a common sense budget that is not balanced on the backs of the poor. Shared sacrifice must include those at the top; only then will Illinois have a budget that is fair.”

Morton-based Tazwood Community Services hasn't yet initiated layoffs, but 700 of its clients were notified this week that they won't be receiving a form of energy assistance that helps poor people keep their utilities on.

"We hate to see those people not being served," said executive director Cindy Bergstrand, whose organization serves clients in Tazewell and Woodford counties.

Bergstrand said the agency will use federal dollars to stay afloat this summer. She said she anticipates laying off at least one worker if the standoff persists.

"We're not going to be able to go forever," Bergstrand said.

At the Embarras River Basin Agency for Economic Opportunity, which serves Coles, Douglas and seven other counties in eastern Illinois, an estimated 1,600 families are losing access to the utility assistance program.

Executive Director Marsha Roll said many of those affected by the cutoff are seniors. She worries that even if lawmakers and the governor resolve their differences quickly, people will still suffer.

"If and when they come to an agreement, it is going to take time to get the program running again. It's a scary time," Roll said.

For now, Roll said there are no layoffs at her agency. But, that could change if the impasse continues.

"We're just kind of playing it a week or two at a time. If it doesn't get settled within this month, there definitely will be layoffs," Roll said.

Members of the House, meanwhile, are scheduled to return to the Capitol Wednesday for what could be a vote on a temporary budget to keep the state's basic operations from running out of money this month. Rauner has said he'd veto a temporary budget.

Court action also is underway designed to keep paychecks flowing to state workers.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked a Cook County judge to clarify whether state law allows only limited pay without a budget, or the full payroll can be distributed. The first hearing is set for Tuesday.

In a separate motion, the state's largest employee union filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County Thursday to keep paychecks flowing. A court date for that issue has not been scheduled.

In a statement Monday, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said her office will be in court Tuesday requesting an order that will allow her to pay all state employees on their scheduled pay dates.

"As a longtime volunteer for a nonprofit serving the developmentally disabled, I know firsthand how important state support for social services is and I will do everything allowed under law to see that it continues," Munger said. / 217-782-4043

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