Senator Steans

February 8, 2016

Dear Friends,

 

Illinois is now in its eighth month without a budget.  This is unprecedented and inexcusable, with real people getting hurt throughout the state.  Individuals suffering from mental health illnesses and substance use disorders are not able to receive treatment.  Many seniors are no longer getting home health care services.  And social service providers across Illinois are closing down programs due to the budget impasse.

 

One of the most sweeping effects of our lack of a budget has been the non-payment of Monetary Assistance Program grants that allow low-income students to attend colleges in Illinois. When Gov. Rauner vetoed the higher education budget we passed in May, funding to pay these grants was cut off indefinitely. As a result, Illinois' colleges and universities tell us that more than 1,000 recipients were unable to return to classes after winter break this year.

 

I don't believe a piecemeal approach to the budget is the best course of action. Already, Illinois' social safety net has been deeply damaged. Even if we were to have a budget in place tomorrow, the recovery of our social services infrastructure, not to mention many other areas of state government activity, would be hard, slow and expensive. The sooner we embark on this process, the better, and only a complete and fully-funded budget will restore the certainty and confidence needed to make it succeed.

 

Last Thursday, however, I voted for legislation that would release funding for MAP grants, community colleges and adult education programs, because if we allow thousands of qualified, motivated students to leave the state or drop out of higher education due to finances, it will be exceedingly difficult for Illinois to bounce back from the blow to our economy and quality of life.

 

The House and Senate both passed this bill last week.  While Governor Rauner pledged not to sign it, I hope he reconsiders.

 

We do need to have a serious conversation about slowing the rise in tuition and making college more affordable for middle-class families. That's why the budget proposed and passed by the legislature included a 16% reduction in appropriations to public colleges and universities - a sensible alternative to the drastic cut (almost one-third of all state funding) the Governor had requested. At the same time, we increased MAP grants to make college more accessible to low-income students - many of them seeking to be the first in their families to earn a post-secondary degree.

 

But when the governor vetoed the higher education budget, strategic reforms had to be put on the back burner as institutions struggled to continue serving students. Eastern Illinois University has eliminated 200 staff positions. Chicago State University will run out of operating funds in March. The effect on college in Illinois has been broad, not targeted, and low-income and working students - 60 percent of them female and many of them balancing caring for their families with improving their earning potential - have borne the brunt of the harm. Low-income, non-traditional and part-time students require more support and resources from administration and faculty, not less, so across-the-board cuts are likely to result in lower graduation rates among the students who stand to benefit most from a degree, rather than in the elimination of waste.

 

Governor Rauner tried to take a positive tone in his State of the State address, offering hope that a bipartisan compromise can end the budget standoff.  The governor mentioned some areas where he believes compromise is achievable. He endorsed President Cullerton's pension proposal and pledged to work with legislators to pass constitutional and effective public employee pension reform. He referenced bipartisan criminal justice reform accomplishments. He also joined voices calling for greater equity in school funding.

 

We can work with the governor on all these issues and more, but as critical social services shut down on a near-daily basis and higher education flounders, my focus is a budget for Illinois. I'm working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to get to a solution as soon as possible - on the budget and reforms - and I am convinced there is a path forward that is positive for residents, workers and businesses throughout the state.  While the Senate President has been looking for areas of agreement to end the impasse, we need all our leaders to put the concerns of the public first.

 

As I continue working toward a responsible budget solution, it's also very important to me and my office that we keep you informed. We know the current situation is affecting you and your families, neighbors, customers and clients. Please do not hesitate to contact me at (773) 769-1717 or through my website with any questions, comments or ideas.

 

Sincerely,
Heather Steans
Senator Heather Steans
7th District – Illinois

 

 

District Office

5533 N. Broadway • Chicago, IL 60640

773-769-1717 (Phone) • 773-769-6901 (Fax)

 

Springfield Office

122 Capitol Building • Springfield, IL 62706

217-782-8492 (Phone)

 

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District Office
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