During a Thursday afternoon press conference at which Nancy Alva spelled out how deeply services at the Progress Center for Independent Living would be hurt by cuts in the state budget, a ringing telephone interrupted her remarks. The phone serves as the center’s emergency line for people with disabilities in need of a personal assistant.
“After Sept. 30, that phone is not going to be ringing anymore,” John Jansa, program director at the Progress Center, said.
The loss of $267,000 in state funding means the center won’t be able to provide several critical programs to its clients, including its emergency personal assistant program. Personal assistants work with people at their homes, and the Progress Center can provide an aide on short notice. By working with folks in their homes, fewer people are placed in nursing homes and have a better opportunity to live a more fulfilling life, according to the center.
The state cuts are forcing the Progress Center to drop six employees and three programs, said Jansa. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the remaining workforce will be forced to swallow a reduction in their wages.
The Progress Center is working to get lawmakers to restore funding, and the Aug. 27 press conference in Forest Park served as a warm-up to a larger protest held Monday outside Gov. Pat Quinn’s offices at the Thompson Center.
“Our message today to the governor is, you made a mistake,” Mark Karner, a longtime Progress Center employee and a quadriplegic himself, said. “But it’s not too late to correct it.”
Karner and Alva are two of the six Progress Center employees who will lose their jobs after Sept. 30.
State law establishes the function of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living, and the Forest Park branch is not at risk of closing. However, an overriding concern of many who work at the center is that by decreasing their capacity to provide services within the community, the state becomes overwhelmed by the shifting demand. Also, many of the Progress Centers employees have their own disabilities. Layoffs within this population almost guarantee their dependence on state and federal aid programs, they said.
The state budget cuts to the entire network of centers amounts to $1.6 million. Horacio Esparza, the director of the Progress Center for Independent Living, said any short-term savings would be devoured several times over when the state has to begin serving those who have been displaced.
Joel Sheffel attended last week’s press conference and pointed to his own story as evidence of the need for places like the Progress Center. His epilepsy and depression landed him in a nursing home several years ago, but with financial help from the Progress Center, Sheffel was able to get his own apartment. Sheffel now works as the executive director for West Suburban Access News Association, which manages a Web site that carries information for people with disabilities.
The Progress Center’s community reintegration program helps pay for furniture, security deposits and other up-front costs so that people can live more independently. That program is losing $10,000 in state funding.
According to Sheffel, he never would have been able to manage those expenses on his own.
“These cuts are just going to be devastating,” Sheffel said.