Who is my neighbor?

That is the simple but powerful question that is facing the people of Illinois as we struggle along without a state budget.

A recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll found that 34 percent of respondents said they were personally affected by the budget crisis. That’s one in every three Illinois households. So, statistically, that means that if you haven’t been directly harmed by the budget stalemate, one of your next-door neighbors has been.

Over the past few days, I’ve read a number of news stories about that one-in-three statistic. I’ve been surprised – and frankly, saddened – to see that many commentators interpret those results as showing that the majority of people in Illinois simply don’t care about the lasting damage being caused by the budget stalemate, because they haven’t been personally affected.

I disagree. I think most of us in Illinois believe that we have a connection and a responsibility to our friends and neighbors, and that we all suffer when our communities are in trouble. That’s why we’ve formed the Responsible Budget Coalition – a non-partisan group of more 300 Illinois service and advocacy organizations – to call for a fully funded Illinois state budget that will pay for the vital services our communities have depended upon for decades.

To me, the Simon Institute poll simply confirms what the Responsible Budget Coalition’s network of advocates and providers already knew – that Illinois’ failure to pass a fully funded, responsible budget has deprived more than a million people of services they badly need, including mental health services, substance abuse treatment, child care, senior care, HIV prevention, and even food programs. That number doesn’t include the many thousands who have lost their jobs because long-established agencies have been forced to close their doors, nor the thousands more who fear that their jobs are on the chopping block as well.

In the wake of the stopgap budget Band-Aid passed earlier this summer, news stories about the budget impasse have mostly disappeared from the front pages. But real people and businesses continue to be harmed by the direct and indirect impacts of our elected leaders’ collective failure to produce a real budget.

These troubling poll numbers should grab the attention of lawmakers who have turned their eyes away from Springfield over the past few months. The Simon Institute’s findings show that many voters in every legislative district are still feeling the pain of our state’s continuing budget inaction. Whether we’re concerned for ourselves or for our neighbors, we want this budget crisis quickly and responsibly resolved.

John Bouman is the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and chair of the Responsible Budget Coalition Executive Committee.

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