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Illinois Social Service Agencies Still Wait For State Money

Sojourn CEO Angela Bertoni. Her shelter is one of many Illinois social service organizations waiting for state funds.

Even though a state budget was finally passed earlier this summer, the process for paying allocated funds is not automatic. Social service agencies are waiting for money owed to them by the state.

Before a budget was approved, the Sojourn Shelter in Springfield laid off staff members and was considering further cuts. The agency serves domestic-abuse victims, providing housing and resources to help them get back on their feet. It's still waiting for money due for fiscal years 2017 and '18.

"I think there's the misconception," said Sojourn CEO Angela Bertoni, "once a budget was issued, everybody thought that solved all the problems."

Bertoni said that, having worked a long time for non-profits, she's well aware the process could take months. Other such agencies in the state are also waiting for funds. The  Illinois Comptroller's Office writes the checks for organizations like Sojourn, but it can't until the Illinois Department of Human Servicesreleases payments.

The Comptroller's Office said in a statement that it "has not received vouchers from the Department of Human Services for Sojourn Shelter and other providers that protect and care for domestic violence survivors. Once those vouchers arrive, they will be treated as a priority."

Bertoni said she's confident her agency has enough reserve funds to wait but says, "A lot of agencies might not be able to hold on for too much longer. Even with a state budget, you have to receive those funds. If you don't get those funds, you could be forced to close your doors."

Bertoni said there will be lasting effects of the budget impasse, such as the misconception by some that the shelter had to close or was no longer offering services. She also worries how the state's tumult over the budget shapes the way donors feel.

"People who might have been donors before might not have given this last year," she said.

She said some donors were forced to grapple with their own losses and that gaining the public's trust that these services are sustainable might take time to rebuild.

Overall, Bertoni is optimistic about the future of the shelter. She says she's thankful that Sojourn had reserve money and therefore fared better during the budget impasse than some other agencies.

"They always say, 'Save for a rainy day,'" she said. "Well, it was a really torrential downpour this last year."

Illinois Department of Human Services spokesperson Meghan Powers said in a statement, "The FY18 budget passed by the General Assembly required changes in our accounting systems in order to release payments for domestic violence providers. IDHS has prioritized domestic violence funding and our team has been diligently working to make the required changes and to communicate these changes to the Illinois Office of the Comptroller. We will be releasing payments to the Comptroller’s Office on a rolling basis as the system changes are completed. We anticipate releasing payments to the Comptroller’s Office within the week. We appreciate our providers’ continued patience with this process."

Rachel's reports currently focus on education and equity. She's also reported extensively on arts, community & diverse culture.