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« AP Cites Progress Illinois' Budget Impact Tracking More Scenes from Monday's "Send Off" »

Illinois Mon Jul 13 2009

A "Send Off," and Search for a Balanced Budget

marching outside.jpgAbout 30 people gathered outside Representative Deb Mell's office in the 40th District at 3657 N. Kedzie Ave. in Albany Park today, chanting and circling her office in an effort to get her to support House Bill 174. The event was one of about 40 "send offs" held across the state -- three of which were held in Chicago --organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union representing 1.6 million wokers, including caseworkers, nurses, corrections officers, child care providers, EMTs and sanitation workers, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, among other groups statewide. Organizers and marchers are pushing for state representatives to sign HB174, which AFSCME believes modernizes the state's tax structure by, along with other measures, raising the Individual Income Tax rate from 3 to 5 percent, and the Corporate Income Tax rate from 4.8 to 5 percent.

Mechanics followed the protestors -- most of whom work for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services -- outside of Mell's office from the time they started at 11:45 a.m. to the time they left about two hours later. Here are some highlights.

Edward Schwartz.jpg"What are we going to do?" asks Edward Schwartz, a child protection worker out of the DCFS' offices at 2550 W. Bradley Pl. "I need to keep kids safe. Our programs keep families together and strong." While Schwartz feels secure in his job, he's unsure of all of the services he'll be able to provide pending more state cuts. Substance abuse, mental illness, sexual assault and sexual abuse all play a key factor in child abuse cases, he says. When services that help treat these problems are in jeopardy, so is a child's well-being, Schwartz argues. In a speech in front of the crowd, he adds, "The human impact of budget cuts is devastating. Service cuts harm communities, don't cut the safety nets."

"Solidarity, keep on marching," chants Larry Spivack, a regional director for AFSCME. He supports the bill because it creates a progressive tax-base for the state and takes pressure off property tax. While he says state budget cuts are even a bigger issue downstate, no area is immune, and the budget gap could result in huge layoffs, affecting the quality of life of nearly every citizen.

Janice Ableman.jpgJanice Ableman, a child welfare advanced specialist for DCFS, works with families on the brink of a crisis. A family in this situation may call the department's hotline, or may have been referred to DCFS by a doctor or policeman. The children in these cases aren't at the point where they will be removed from their household, Ableman says, but they're at the point where "they need help, and we can steer them towards" the right direction, she says. Ableman has noticed several of the agencies she works with, such as Youth Outreach Services, have been crippled by budget cuts. "The safety net, the lifeline, is going away," she says.

Carol & Reyna.jpgCarol Davenport and Reyna Maldonado, both child development aids for DCFS, stand outside of Mell's office in the early afternoon. Both are on their lunch break and are here to "support the cause." "We need our money, we work hard for it," Davenport says. Ableman explains that their job -- child development aid -- is one of the most important for DCFS, but unfortunately, it's also one of the most vulnerable when budget cuts hit. Development aids pick up children from dire situations to take them into DCFS care. Ableman notes that this day is probably the worst day of a child's life, and development aids are the first person a child sees, often making their role a key factor in the child's future well-being.

While Mell does not make an appearance, after about an hour of picketing outside her office, her chief of staff, Leah Pouw, opens her door to speak to everyone outside. In response to Mell's inaction regarding HB174, Pouw says raising income tax is a sensitive issue, and Mell has had community members on both sides of the issue come to her with concerns. "I think she felt more needed to be done...there needed to be more accountability," Pouw says. After about five minutes, she welcomes everyone to come inside to talk further. As people gather, filling seats and a couch, Pouw asks, "Why can't there be more accountability from the government? [The solution] should not be on the backs of the most vulnerable." One person thoughtfully responds, "We don't have time to fix it now. We need to fix it when everything is on an even keel."

Other interesting things overheard throughout the protest:
"Do the right thing, keep Illinois working."
"Save our state."
"Take the lead, keep those in need."
"Times are tough, don't cut our services, don't cut our jobs."
"Don't lay us off."
*Loud honk from a man driving a large U-Pak truck.*
"Are there people in the offices? Do they even know we're here?"
"What do we do now?"
"Tell them to cut part of their staff," as shouted from a man in his car.
"We're like the Midnight Express when they all walk around in circles."
"Excuses-none! Get the job done."
"Vote for 174. We elect you, we expect you to vote for revenue."
"Tax the rich," as written on a sign.
"Don't cut our jobs, do your job."
"Hey, hey, ho, ho, service cuts have got to go."

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