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Lawmakers plan $1.3B trim to state bills backlog

By David Mercer

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 1:00 a.m. MDT

The umbrella group Illinois Partners for Human Service periodically surveys its 700 member agencies about the impact of late state payments. In the most recent survey, late last year, just under a third of the 169 agencies that responded had fired staff, 8 percent had skipped paying staff for some period and almost half had to borrow money.

The borrowing had kept many agencies operating at relatively healthy levels. But banks are now less willing to make loans, conscious that state money to pay them back doesn't arrive on time, Illinois Partners Executive Director Judith Gethner said.

Those that stay open struggle to pay their own vendors and suppliers — janitors, food-service companies and the like. And Gethner suspects her surveys don't tell the whole story. Many of the agencies in her organization likely keep their struggles secret.

"You've got to show solvency in order for (private) foundations to continue to fund you," she said.

Monroe County Human Support Services is waiting on about $800,000 in overdue state payments, but put away money when it could over the past few years for the periods when the state isn't paying at all. At the moment, Executive Director Robert Cole says the agency has a fairly healthy bank account, but credits local charities and other sources closer to home.

Services haven't been cut at Family Service of Champaign County, which has about 70 employees working with 12,000 people a year. But adapting to the backlog — $250,000 to $300,000 at any given time — is a daily chore, Executive Director Sheryl Bautch said.

"If somebody's computer dies, OK, now we look around for somebody who can donate a computer because we can't go out and buy a new one," she said, adding that her staff hasn't had a pay raise in three years.

Kayser said the 40-year-old Counseling Center of Lake View made similar sacrifices. She still owes staff money and is working without pay.

"You say, 'I'm not going to invest in my building this year. I'm not going to replace the systems that are outdated. I'm not going to hire new staff. We're not going to give cost of living increases," she said. "You (would) do those things because you think maybe things will change. But it doesn't change. ... There is no waiting it out."

Follow David Mercer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/DavidMercerAP

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