Peoria Journal Star

November 10, 2005

Cutbacks may hurt Illinois' poor
Money spent on hurricane leaves budget lacking

By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Percy Baker worries about how already struggling families and seniors in Peoria will weather a massive package of budget cuts that the House might vote on as early as today.

As director of the George Washington Carver Community Center, which provides programs for at-risk youth, families and seniors, Baker knows the needs of Peoria's low-income residents.

"It would have a tremendous effect on our community," he said. "There is a great need in the city of Peoria, and I would say it's not just the low-income but people of moderate income as well, because of the rising cost of utilities, the state of our economy, the unemployment rate, the cutting of state and federal programs, all ... while people are struggling.

"We've had more people apply for supportive services than we've had in a long, long time," Baker said.

House Republican leaders are pushing the $54 billion in budget cuts over five years to help offset the massive aid spent on relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina. Details still were being worked out as they struggled to secure enough votes.

However, advocates for the poor have sounded the alarms over the looming cuts, which are expected to especially affect programs that help the poor, such as Medicaid, food stamps and student loan subsidies.

The Senate last week approved legislation cutting about $35 billion from the budget over five years, largely avoiding cuts to anti-poverty programs. GOP leaders plan to follow the budget cuts with a $70 billion tax-cut package.

"It's our opinion that all of these cuts are being made on the backs of poor and moderate-income people when the rich are not receiving the same," Baker said.

But Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, called it "shared sacrifice."

"If we've got to take care of people in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, then we've got to pay for it," said LaHood, who supports the budget cuts to avoiding increasing the deficit.

While he knows local service providers are unhappy about the proposed cuts, "My job is to make the tough decisions," he said. "I believe this is the fair way to do it."

Illinois would lose $286 million in Medicaid funding, $73 million for food stamps, $64 million for foster care and adoption programs, and millions in student loan subsidies, according to Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities, a coalition of consumer groups, environmental groups and trade unions.

"For the first time, very poor parents will have to pay premiums for their kids to be on Medicaid," said Hannah Lehman, the coalition's deputy director in Illinois. "They'll be charged co-pays for their children's prescriptions and doctor's visits - premiums and co-pays that these families can't afford.

"This budget bill would be devastating to Illinois families," Lehman said.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, opposes the budget-cutting package.

"This bill represents a body blow to working and middle-class families and farmers," he said. "It slashes health care, rural development, college aid, nutrition assistance, and child support. This bill reflects the wrong priorities, the wrong direction and the wrong decisions."

The budget cuts could end up costing the federal and state governments more money in the long run, said Lynn Goffinet, associate executive director, central region, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois.

The budget-cut package would put a cap on funding for foster care and adoption programs that will force the state to spend more or to cut services, she said. Illinois could lose $20 million from one provision, which would prohibit foster care subsidies to relatives who care for children unless they are licensed.

While the number of children in foster care in Illinois has decreased in recent years, there's been an increase in certain areas, including central Illinois, because of the methamphetamine crisis, she said.