Horacio Esparza, executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living (PCIL) in Forest Park, held a press conference at PCIL headquarters last month “to inform Gov. Bruce Rauner, Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, and other Illinois legislators that several service agencies are in danger of closing their doors and ceasing to provide crucial services to members of the community who have disabilities.” Among the 20 or so in attendance were a reporter and camera crew from Univision’s Hoy news program.

Esparza said PCIL has received no funding since July 1 from the state of Illinois. The agency headquartered on Madison Street depends on the state for 90% of its funding. This has resulted in the closing of the office one day a week and would force closing another day each week in September. If nothing is done by the end of October, he said, the agency will have to close altogether.

The five people sitting on the panel with Esparza talked about what the center has meant to them. Arturo Santana is what PCIL calls a “consumer,” i.e. a client. He said if all of the subsidies he gets from the state and services he receives from the Progress Center are taken away, he will be homeless.

Geovani Bahena, who is blind, said he came to PCIL a year ago as an intern and in that capacity had the chance to be in a work environment and find the courage to move forward in life. He now serves there as a volunteer. 

“We want to be independent,” he said, “just like everyone else.”

Nancy Arroyo’s son is blind. 

“We’re not asking Gov. Rauner and the legislature to pass the budget because we’re selfish,” Arroyo said. “My son learned computer skills at the Progress Center. As the mother of a consumer, I tell you this place really works.” Arroyo then repeated her testimony in Spanish as had Esparza and Bahena.

A statement was read from Michele Miller, executive director of the Northwestern Illinois Center for Independent Living, in which she argued, “The message remains loud and clear. People with disabilities have the right to be supported through centers for independent living so they can live their independent lives on their terms. It is the legislative system and the governor who hold those rights in their hands and can easily solve this devastating situation … by doing the right thing, which is solving this budget impasse.”

Kurt Miles, who was on the panel and identified himself as a volunteer, said that before he starting coming to PCIL in June, he was severely depressed but since becoming involved, his self-esteem has soared. 

“The Progress Center is a wonderful place,” Miles said. “We will all lose if Springfield doesn’t pass the budget. There are so many persons with disabilities who can succeed in life if they are given the appropriate help.”

During the question-and-answer period, Esparza noted that if the state government doesn’t pass the budget and fund services for people with disabilities, they would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Without funding, the 22 centers for people with handicaps would have to lay off all their employees. The effect would be to reduce state income tax revenues and, by eliminating health insurance, would force many persons with disabilities to go to emergency rooms for immediate health care. 

At the end of the press conference, Esparza borrowed a tactic from the Civil Rights Movement shouting, “What do we want?” The crowd responded with an energetic, “Pass the budget!” 

Then he asked, “When do we want it?” to which the 20 people in the room replied, “Now.”