House Bill 2990 offers help for those affected by budget cuts

By State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)

Even in the absence of a state budget—eight months into the fiscal year—many state responsibilities are funded today.

They’re funded because a statute requires continuing spending. Expenditures for some programs are required by court orders. A few, but very few, are funded in the more usual way—dollars appropriated for specific purposes by the General Assembly, then signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner.

But some important state services have been left on the cutting room floor. There is neither a requirement, nor is there any opportunity, for the state to help needy college students pay their tuition bills. There is neither a requirement, nor is there any opportunity, to provide services to rape victims. The same applies to mental health and substance abuse programs, community colleges and state universities, many services for low-income seniors, children with autism and homeless youth.

Lutheran Social Services has laid off hundreds of employees, and Catholic Charities can’t be far behind. Many small social service agencies have already, absent state support, closed up shop altogether. Without a budget, the state has slammed the door shut in the face of the people whose needs these agencies serve.

I offered legislation last week in Springfield to give a leg up to these critical programs. The measure was not a global budget fix, and it did not guarantee funding for any specific program or service. But it provided each of them a chance at funding.

Without passage of my bill, the Comptroller has no authority to spend one penny on substance abuse or mental health programs. No authority to spend one penny on colleges and universities. No authority to strengthen the fraying links in the state’s social service safety net.

My measure passed the House. I hope the Senate will concur.

The governor threatens a veto. But nothing in this bill requires his administration to spend a single dollar. It does, however, give the comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger the same authority she currently has over many other programs to pay some or all of the bills for these critical services.

I encourage the governor to reconsider should the bill reach his desk. I encourage him to extend a helping hand to people in need and sign House Bill 2990.