"Fair is foul…"Wednesday, March 24, 2010
These words came especially to mind as the Illinois Secretary of Human Services Michelle Saddler presented the Department's budget to a group of advocates last week.
My reaction was due partly to Secretary Saddler's description of the proposed cuts, which will be tragic.
"With this budget, we are dismantling the social safety net" she said. "Human services are being kicked to the curb…people will simply disappear if they are not helped…$300 million will be cut from human services, with special gutting of prescription drugs…in mental health, 74,000 will not receive their meds…rehabilitation services cuts will hurt people who, with services, can work, but without services, will not be able to…"
Services will be available only to those at Medicaid levels - which are set at below federal poverty - and to those who can afford to pay full freight. Others will have no access to virtually any service even if they have children who are autistic, have cerebral palsy, or are intellectually impaired; suffer from mental illness or could live at home rather than a nursing facility at greater cost.
Also disorienting was what the Secretary said next: "The Department of Human Services in no way supports this budget. Candidly, the governor is not an advocate for this budget either. It is driven by limited resources."
We are fortunate to have Secretary Saddler in the position she holds: she is compassionate, smart, and understands the vast array of programs under her purview. But what kind of world are we living in when the official responsible for proposing the budget of her Department finds it necessary to say that what she is putting forward is "completely devastating?"
She knows the proposed budget makes no sense. She commented that when residential mental health centers close all around the state, "people will show up at the emergency room, under bridges, or in the criminal justice system." This will cost more than the programs that are being cut.
What can we do in the face of irrationality, and the imposition of pain and suffering? We must, of course, make our voices heard. The Responsible Budget Coalition hopes to gather several thousand individuals in Springfield on April 21. PCG will be there.
But there are equally important things we can do without traveling to Springfield: call our state representatives and tell them that we need new revenue now; say that we can't wait until after the election in November; write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper calling for a tax increase - not for "state government" but for schools and human service agencies in our communities. Participate with PCG in Faith Wednesdays at the capitol during the month of May. Convince our friends, family, and church members to join this urgent effort.
If we don't take these steps, we will remain in a world where "fair if foul, foul is fair." We will learn what it is like to live in a state where human services - except for the wealthy and the very poor - are a thing of the past.
The Rev. Alexander Sharp, Executive Director