Forty volunteer leaders and staff from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and its beneficiary agencies traveled to Springfield this week to educate Illinois elected officials and state agency staff about the needs and concerns of the Jewish community.
The meetings come amidst one of the worst budget crises in Illinois’ history.
Led by David Brown, the Federation’s Government Affairs chairman, the group pressed legislators from both parties on vital human services issues.
“The trip to Springfield is part and parcel of our Federation agenda,” Brown said. “This is the best way to make sure that the people who we help every day are on the legislators’ minds as they are going through their daily business.”
The state budget for fiscal year 2011 is projected to have a shortfall of at least $13 billion, which would mean significant cuts to human services in Illinois, forcing the closure of some Jewish community programs.
As one of the largest providers of social services in the state, the Federation system depends on state funds to continue such programs as respite care for families with children who have developmental disabilities; adult day care and other services for the elderly; and mental health services.
The state, whose Federation contracts are supposed to cover about $40 million in services, has reimbursed only a small portion of costs incurred by Federation agencies. Moreover, payments have been as late as several months.
“We are here to remind our elected officials that cuts in the human services field cause devastation in lives,” said Ann-Louise Kleper, Government Affairs Committee member and domestic policy chair. “The Federation and its agencies provide quality programs and services and we want to see those maintained and strengthened, but we are also concerned for the general state of human services.”
The Federation delegation met with Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, who both said they were painfully aware of the negative effect of the current deficits and late payments.
The group also met with House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Cross, Sen. Dan Rutherford, House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Currie, Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Don Harmon, and Sen. Susan Garrett.
Legislators from both parties acknowledged the current budget crisis and admitted not having done enough to prevent it.
Rep. Julie Hamos, who today succeeded Barry Maram as director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, thanked the group for advocating on behalf of those who often do not have a voice. She expressed the hope that she will serve “our community more effectively and will find more creative ways to make the budget work” for social service providers.
Maram and his staff also briefed the delegation, acknowledging the importance of Federation services to the well-being of Illinois citizens.
Community leaders also heard State Journal Register political columnist Bernie Schoenburg and Charlie Wheeler, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield Public Affairs Reporting program. Both provided insights into the current political situation and party leadership positions.
This year’s Government Affairs Springfield mission coincided with the state’s annual Holocaust observance, a solemn occasion taking place at the Old State Capitol. Gov. Pat Quinn joined legislators, Holocaust survivors, community organization leaders and delegates for a service in memory of victims of the Nazi regime.
The Governor stressed the importance of Holocaust education and paid particular attention to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center (IHMEC), which opened last year.
“As governor, I salute all those who stand for truth and against oppression,” Quinn said. “We have a duty and a mission to carry forth the history and ensure that it is never repeated.”
Rep. Sid Mathias, a child of survivors, also praised the state’s efforts in Holocaust education and anti-hate crime legislation. Fritzie Fritzshall, IHMEC president, recalled her experience of living in a Jewish ghetto, being transported to Auschwitz in a cattle car, and surviving the concentration camp and slave labor through the kindness of fellow prisoners, who protected then 13-year-old Fritzshall. She said she promised herself that if she survived, she would commit her life to telling the story of the Holocaust.
The Federation delegation also hosted Jewish legislators for a reception at the Governor’s Mansion. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, Rep. Lou Lang, Rep. Julie Hamos, Rep. Sid Mathias, Rep. Elaine Nekritz, Rep. Sarah Feigenholtz, Rep. Karen May joined the Federation delegation. Jerry Stermer, chief of staff for the governor, State Tresurer’s Chief of Staff Robin Kelly, Rep. David Miller, Michael Gelder, senior policy adviser to the governor, and state agency staff also attended.