Roman J. Salamon

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Social services save tax dollars

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Many Illinoisans think that the services provided by social service agencies are for the benefit of the poor only. We constantly hear that social service agencies take care of the "least among us". The truth is much more complex than the perception.

Agencies such as Lifescape Community Services exist because the people of Illinois saw a public problem that needed to be addressed. Many years ago, it was decided that the most efficient and effective way to address issues like senior hunger and isolation was to outsource the programs to agencies like Lifescape. Public problems like youth crime, child daycare, and domestic violence were similarly outsourced to other community agencies who delivered services to the public at a lower cost than the State of Illinois.

Make no mistake, Lifescape and other social service agencies exist to save the taxpayers money. Our Home Delivered Meals program (Meals on Wheels) is vital to ensure that our clients do not enter long-term care facilities prematurely. Nursing home placement costs the State tens of thousands of dollars every year. If we are successful at keeping just twenty (20) of our clients out of nursing homes each year, we will have saved more money than our program costs the State of Illinois.

For many years now, social service agencies throughout Illinois have been asked to keep delivering these services for less and less money. Even before the current budget crisis, Lifescape was forced to start a waiting list for Home Delivered Meals because the demand for our services is greater than our financial resources. America's population is aging rapidly and that trend will continue for many decades. Our funding has not kept up with today's demographic realities.

We have learned how to do more with less. Lifescape and other agencies have adapted and even subsidized these services by pursuing other sources of revenue like fundraising and grant writing. Can you imagine if the Illinois Department of Transportation was forced to host a fundraiser so they could have enough revenue to fix the roads? That is the situation social service agencies have been forced to deal with for the last several years.

This year's budget battle is different than past years. The absence of a state budget has left us with a great deal of uncertainty. It is difficult to write a budget or plan to deliver services when we are uncertain about our funding.

If the budget stalemate continues much longer, we will be forced to further reduce our staff and cut services. I invite readers to imagine what would happen to our community if we are unable to provide our services. The results would be devastating. Our clients' health would decline. More seniors would be forced into nursing homes. Property values would be affected due to the large amount of senior citizens who would be forced out of their homes. Our entire community would suffer if we are not able to serve our clients.

We take our duty to the taxpayers very seriously. Social service agencies understand that we are a public trust. We have been doing more with less for many years and we have been subsidizing state services while serving the public good. The current budget situation harms the entire community and will, in the end, cost the taxpayers more money. It is up to us to force our elected officials to do the fiscally responsible thing and pass a budget that fully funds social services. To do anything else is bad public policy.

- Mike Hughes, MPA is the Chief Operating Officer for Lifescapes Community Services, Inc.

 


This article was originally published in the Rockford Register Star on Sunday, October 4, 2015. Learn how you can take action to support area families during this budget impasse by visiting www.unitedwayrrv.org/saveilfamilies.

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