Several human service providers convened in Peoria today to highlight how the state budget crisis is impeding their ability to help the poor.
The Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty in Illinois brought together Easter Seals Central Illinois, Neighborhood House, the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity and Rogy’s Learning Center for an afternoon conference.
Thirty seconds into the press conference, Easter Seals Central Illinois Executive Vice President Jim Runyon mentioned the stalemate in Springfield.
“The impasse has exacerbated the impacts of poverty and hunger here, if there was a budget tomorrow, there would still be poverty and hunger in Peoria,” Runyon said.
Chicago-based Heartland Alliance’s 2015 Illinois Poverty Report says one in three Illinoisans are poor or near poor.
According to Heartland Alliance’s report, the poverty rate for African Americans is nearly three times that of whites. Statewide, about one in two black children are poor, Senior Director of Research & Policy Amy Rynell said.
Rynell says she’s concerned that the ongoing budget impasse will widen the economic disparity between whites and minorities.
PCCEO Executive Director McFarland Bragg says the majority of people it serves are African American. Bragg has been involved with Community Action in Peoria agencies since 1975.
“January this year I started my 41st year, and this last six months has been the most challenging and difficult of my professional career,” Bragg said.
So difficult, that Bragg says the PCCEO can’t guarantee it will be able to heat people’s homes this winter. Based on the number of applicants it typically sees, coupled by the uncertainty in state funding, its Low-Income Energy Assistance Program only has enough funding to continue through the end of December.
Representatives from other nonprofits say the state needs to be better equipped with human service programs -- particularly amid layoffs at Caterpillar and Mitsubishi.