Sparrow Supports Social Services in Lawsuit


June 8, 2016


Sparrow Coalition Joins Amicus Brief Supporting Social Services

The Sparrow Coalition was among 19 organizations that filed a “friend of the court brief” in support of social service providers who have not been paid during the state budget impasse. The suit, filed against Gov. Bruce Rauner and state agencies, demands that the State follow through on contractual obligations to pay for services provided without compensation during the Illinois budget impasse. The lawsuit is being brought by Pay Now Illinois, a coalition of 82 provider agencies who have contracts with the state to provide social services. More than $130 million is owed for 11 months of unpaid work, the coalition claims. A hearing has been set for July 13.

Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law  filed the “friend of the court” (amicus) brief on behalf of 13 individual organizations and six coalitions representing nearly 600 additional organizations throughout Illinois that depend on partial funding by the state, which has failed to pay providers.

“The amicus brief provides the court with context for the contractual dispute: the devastating real-world impact of the budget impasse on Illinois residents as the State forces providers to reduce—and in some instances eliminate entirely—vital services that families and individuals rely on for their very well-being and livelihood,” the center reported.  “Collectively, the friends of the court represent more than 544,000 individuals, including low-income, elderly, and disabled people, throughout Illinois.”

You can read the full Amicus Brief here. The Sparrow Coalition’s filing is below.

“The Sparrow Coalition is a community partnership of social service organizations, Southern Illinois University researchers and students, civic leaders, faith communities, and others. The coalition works to connect existing resources and community stakeholders for solutions to the problems of poverty and homelessness in Southern Illinois. Organizations with involvement include the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless; Centerstone; Good Samaritan Ministries; Southern Illinois University; Shawnee Healthy Families; and the Carbondale Interfaith Council. Participating individuals specialize in services and support for the homeless and persons living in poverty in Southern Illinois, especially in and around Carbondale. The Sparrow Coalition was originally founded to help address a shrinking social service apparatus in Southern Illinois by bringing together stakeholders in the fight against poverty. In that role, the Sparrow Coalition helps members of the network identify problems held in common, seeks out additional resources to bolster access to the range of services that homeless and low-income individuals need, and draws attention to severity of poverty-related issues facing communities in Southern Illinois.  The budget impasse and corresponding nonpayment of contracts has forced members to pull back from the Coalition to focus more on day-to-day survival for their group. Sparrow’s mission has been fundamentally altered by the non-payment to its members. Sparrow current focuses on ensuring its members’ survival, with the intention that preventing the complete shutdown of more agencies can avoid permanent damage to area’s social services infrastructure.

Three Carbondale-based homelessness service providers are now working month-to-month without any guarantees for continued existence. Good Samaritan Ministries, The Women’s Center, and The Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless have turned to private funders as their only way to stay open. However, Southern Illinois does not have a sufficient source of large private donors to support large-scale fundraising. The Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless is expected to close as a result, meaning a major and likely permanent loss of low-income housing for 83 residents. The agency has already made layoffs, completely suspended services, and sold off property in order to keep residents in their homes.

To continue serving their populations, several Sparrow partners have cut staff and services. Some Coalition partners have seen a complete depletion of reserve funds. They have discussed these challenges with local municipalities, which acknowledge that local governments lack the resources and expertise necessary to fill the gaps left by service providers. It is unlikely that there will be sufficient police and other municipal services to confront the challenges posed by homelessness, mentally ill, and other populations who would typically be served by social service organizations that are now underfunded.

A partnership between the Carbondale Public Library and Sparrow members from the SIU School of Social work saw a pilot program designed to help those in poverty access services jump dramatically after a much broader subset of the population was cut off from services, resulting in a group accessing those services that was larger than originally intended. In one close-to-home case of unpaid bills affecting Sparrow, a social work student who volunteered with the coalition lost significant income from contractual work he did providing transportation to Addus HomeCare clients when that program was defunded. He was forced to seek local services himself, and find odd jobs to avoid homelessness for his family. Although childcare funding was eventually restored, SIU students and low-income residents in Southern Illinois had to drop out of college and lost jobs before funding was restored.

Many people are employed by social service providers in Southern Illinois, or rely on social services such as child care funding, to maintain their employment. When those services are forced to lay off staff, individuals to whom Sparrow is directly connected suffer the consequences of Illinois’ failure to pay.”

The Shriver Center reports these statewide consequences:

  • Organizations providing vital services to immigrant and refugee communities throughout the state have laid off approximately 200 employees and have closed down programs that assist immigrants with their English skills and their citizenship applications. Two organizations shut their doors. Programs created to assist migrant farm workers secure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have closed.
  • Organizations throughout the state have seen a tremendous reduction in available mental health services. Hotlines established to handle landlord-tenant matters are being inundated with callers in need of mental health counseling. The wait time for residential substance abuse treatment has increased from two or three weeks to approximately ten weeks. Virtually all supportive services have been cut for clients who live in supportive housing and private market rental housing.
  • The number of agency nursing home ombudsmen, who protect nursing home residents, has been reduced by as much as 60 percent. Organizations helping senior citizens combat elder abuse have also been forced to reduce staff.
  • Eight home-care agencies employing 2,500 homecare aides have closed or withdrawn from the Illinois Department of Aging Community Care Program, which jeopardizes vital care for 3,000 disabled and elderly clients and more are at risk of closure.

“We hope the court acts in the interest of Illinoisans and compels payment for these services. But our state government should not be run through court orders. Our state must honor its contracts, keep its promises and provide for the common good of its people in the ordinary course of its business. This demands enactment of a fully funded budget now,” says John Bouman, President of the Shriver Center. “This cannot wait until after the next election or some other uncertain future date. Illinois and its people need a fully funded budget; we needed it yesterday and it must happen today.”

Joining the brief in support of Pay Now Illinois are Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Housing Action Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Sparrow Coalition, Champaign County Health Care Consumers, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Center for Changing Lives, Communities United, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, ONE Northside, The Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois, Service Employees International Union – Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, The Grassroots Collaborative, Voices for Illinois Children, LAF, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, and Prairie State Legal Services.

Attachment: Amicus Brief 

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