Southern IL service leaders urge legislators to decide on state budget

Southern IL service leaders urge legislators for state budget
Published: Jan. 25, 2016 at 8:16 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2016 at 12:25 AM CST
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MURPHYSBORO, IL (KFVS) - On Monday, more than a dozen heads of social service organizations from across southern Illinois joined inside the Jackson County Health Department to explain their situation midst the state budget deadlock.

Illinois has been operating without an official state budget since July of 2014, since then hundreds of organizations have not received funding from the state.

Southern Illinois Democratic representatives John Bradley, Gary Forby and Brandon Phelps called together the public forum.

The heads of several agencies representing higher education, the health department, women's center, mental health, rape and sexual assault advocates, homelessness, senior citizens, autism and private sector businesses spoke about how their programs were being affected.

People who received those services also gave detailed accounts about how those programs helped them and who would be affected if the programs are halted.

Naomi Tolbert is studying political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and an Illinois Monetary Award Program, a need-based grant that offers college students in Illinois nearly $5,000 per year to attend school.

Tolbert works 25 hours a week and goes to school full time. She was born and raised in Carbondale and graduated from Carbondale High School. Her father never played much of a role in her life and her mother died of breast cancer when she was young, she said.

Tolbert and her two siblings were raised by their great-grandmother, 80, who continues to work to support the three college students.

Tolbert said without the MAP Grant, it would be a harsh burden to continue her education at SIUC.

"Just because they cannot decide upon themselves to pass a budget doesn't mean we should have to suffer and pay the expenses and not have the options an education that so many others had before and that I think we should have," Tolbert said.

"I go to school and I work and I do all this stuff and now I have to consider working a little bit more or doing more or taking out more loans just so I can get an education," Tolbert said. "And I don't know, we have this idea of the American dream and having equality of opportunity in the workforce and education but that dream isn't accessible to many students, especially marginalized students. It really isn't, when you work day in and day out, I don't have that support system to go to, to help fund my education."

"It really isn't, when you work day in and day out, I don't have that support system to go to, to help fund my education," Tolbert said.

Ben Smith, 34, lives in Metropolis, Illinois. He is a recovering drug and alcohol addict who, in the past decade, has spent time in and out of jail and being homeless.

Smith said he grew up in a low income home and had a number of mental disorders that went untreated.

As teenager, he said he began self-medicating that later turned to drug and alcohol abuse. That led to jail time and  homelessness.

A few years ago, Smith reached out to Light the Way, Inc. of Metropolis, Ill. He said the program helped him get back on his feet. Smith now has a stable home and a job.

"In those few years I went from a horrible existence," Smith said. "A horrible painful existence to an actual, a proud member of my community, my society… It's from a direct result of the people and programs they're willing to cut."

Smith now lives in the Haven House apartment complex of Light the Way. The program offers permanent supportive housing designed to provide long-term stability and independence for people coming out of homelessness.

"Without those programs there's going to be a lot of people, a lot of people who have a lot to give to their community that will never get the chance," Smith said.

However, Light the Way Director Phyllis Thistlewood said the state budget impasse is continuing to put a strain on their program, especially mental health services for the people they care for.

"It's not just a number, there are people that those number represent that live right here, that pay their taxes, that work hard, that will not be able to do, to be as productive without a little help from these programs."

Smith is urging legislators to pass a budget so others in his situation have an opportunity to receive help.

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