Progress Center for Independent Living staff members. | Courtesy

Horacio Esparza, executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living (PCIL) in Forest Park, reluctantly informed six of his employees last week that they will be laid off as of March 15.

Esparza explained that his agency needs about $70,000 per month to meet all of its obligations, and at the present time PCIL is receiving only $39,000 each month. PCIL’s payroll alone each month is $40,000 (all figures being approximations). One part-time and five full-time employees are being laid off, including an advocacy coordinator, deaf services coordinator, finance director assistant, two community reintegration assistants, and a part-time personal assistant

Because some grants fund only specific positions at PCIL, Esparza had little flexibility in deciding who to let go. For example, even though the person working as the advocacy coordinator has been with the agency for 20 years, the money from the grant that funds his position has been locked up in Springfield for the last eight months. 

“I’m not the one choosing who’s going to be laid off,” Esparza said. “The funding dictates which positions will be cut.”

At this point, Esparza noted, the State of Illinois owes PCIL around $130,000 for contracted services his agency has already provided, and because of the revenue shortfall, the PCIL office located at 7521 Madison St. will be closed every Friday beginning on March 18 in addition to the six positions being eliminated.

Sara Capetillo, M.S., M.A., PCIL’s bilingual employment advocate, expressed her feeling that the situation was critical in an email she sent to her friends asking for their support. She wrote, “Progress Center provides services for all types of people with disabilities for over 25 years, but sadly, we could be closing our doors for good in the near future due to lack of state funding. Please, please help us spread the word.”

One sign of the seriousness of PCIL’s financial situation is revealed in an email which Capetillo sent out encouraging individual donations to the agency:

“Is there any way you can help Progress Center spread the word about a new GoFundMe account? We are trying to save the future of our center. This is the link:”

Esparza explained he really had only two options for responding to the dramatic decline in revenue: One was to stay open with a full staff until all the money was gone. The second option was to let go of some staff and be closed one day a week in order to keep the agency open in the hopes that the legislature and the governor would pass the budget, thereby allowing him to rehire some of the staff he had let go.

“We are not laying off employees because they aren’t good employees,” he said. “We are laying them off because we are forced to. Hopefully people will understand.”

He said that the people laid off are going to move from being providers at PCIL to being clients, or “consumers,” as the agency refers to them. “They are going to go on unemployment and collect benefits,” he continued. “The state is planning to save money, but I don’t know how they are going to save money this way, and my concern is that some of them might end up in nursing homes.”

Clark Craig, a community organizer at PCIL, said the irony is that instead of spending money on persons with handicaps to enable them to be productive participants in the economy, now the state will be paying them unemployment benefits to do nothing.

After speculating that the withholding of money is part of a strategy by the governor to close many nonprofits, he concluded, “My message to the government is that they don’t realize how much damage they are causing to their constituents.”

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