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Lutheran Social Services Pres. Discusses Closing Programs Due To State Budget Impasse

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Lutheran Social Services of Illinois

The president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois says his agency's decision to close programs due to a lack of state funding isn't the end of the story. Mark Stutrud says he doesn't know what will happen once a state budget is ultimately passes.

LSSI announced on Friday that it would close down mental health counseling, prison re-entry services and help for seniors as a result of Illinois' political stalemate.

After years of leaner budgets, Stutrud says he had worked to shore up revenues, to get LSSI running leaner. But in an interview with Illinois Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanada Vinicky, he says no provider could have been prepared for this: nearly eight months, and no state budget. Waiting on the government to come through with a promised $6 million has forced LSSI to shut down 30 programs that serve nearly 5,000 Illinois residents.  The agency is eliminating 750 positions.

Stutrud says he expects lawmakers will eventually pass a two-year budget, covering retroactive, as well as future, spending. 

Whenever that happens, he wonders what will happen next.

“Is there enough new revenue ... to accomplish what we believe to be right in the state of Illinois?" says Stutrud. Or, he wonders, will there be still more cuts to come?

Stutrud says one reason for a lack of progress on a state budget is a lack of pressure. Despite the budget impasse, Illinois is still spending millions of dollars on foster care, Medicaid and other expenses. And public schools are receiving funding, because Gov. Bruce Rauner approved that part of the budget while vetoing other parts of the plan.

Stutrud says that's taken pressure off of politicians to reach a deal.

"There's no doubt,” said Stutrud. “Now I don't know what's in the minds of the legislature or in the mind of the governor. If that were not true, would there be more pressure? Would it have brought the impasse around and resolved it? I would have to say it's a factor. Is it the factor? I don't know."

Other human services have been left out of those deals. 

Governor Bruce Rauner says he's frustrated by the lack of action in Springfield. Democrats blame Rauner for prioritizing an ideological agenda instead of the budget.