Explaining Youth Program Funding Freeze

Feb 17, 2015

Listen to reporter Rhonda Gillespie talk to Jamey Dunn about her story on funding for youth programs. 

Nearly three-dozen non-profit organizations — mostly in the Chicago area — were told Jan. 29 that money they were expected to get as part of an $8 million Youth Development grant had been blocked by Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new Republican governor has made a point of undoing as many of former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s lame-duck actions as possible, withdrawing promised funding, blocking contracts and rescinding executive orders.

Rauner’s action drew the ire of some legislators and has left agency leaders baffled. While the leaders work to explain the state’s actions to their disappointed youth, several lawmakers have vowed to find out whether the governor overstepped his authority.

The grant was approved by Quinn in December and took effect Jan. 1. Individual organizations were to get anywhere from $30,000 to $943,000.

“The organizations that lost funding are in black and brown communities where opportunities are few and hope is fleeting,” Sen. Jacqui Collins, a Chicago Democrat, said after the governor’s State of the State address. “They have been foot soldiers on the ground transforming and equipping young people for better and more productive lives.” Collins is a parishioner at St. Sabina Catholic Church, which was to get a $200,000 grant.

She says she plans to inquire with the Illinois attorney general’s office to see whether the governor’s actions were legal. A spokeswoman for the office says no legislators have been in touch yet.

Sen. Iris Martinez says “youth and after-school programs are critically important for keeping young Latinos healthy and safe.” The Chicago Democrat calls the governor’s decision to rescind the grants “troubling.”

Corazon Community Services center, located in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, was going to use its $260,999 grant for a youth employment program that would have placed 16-24-year olds on jobs at local businesses. Participants were to include youth from low-income families who were still in school and those who were “disconnected” from school — either as dropouts or graduates. They were to start Feb. 2 and work through June 30.

Mary Johnson and her staff had several employers on board. She says she was preparing the youngsters to start work when the Department of Human Services emailed to say the state money had been halted. She says it was a “huge disappointment” to have to break news to the youth that the program was on hold. She adds that the program would have exposed the youth to job opportunities they may otherwise not have had.

“We don’t want to lose trust with the community,” Johnson says. That could happen “when you have all these youth waiting for jobs” that never materialize.

Homework Hangout Inc. in downstate Decatur had collaborated with a local chef and a painters union as part of a program for 11-17 year olds to gain culinary and construction skills. The program was already underway when Executive Director Erik Grebner was notified by the state that his organization would not be getting its $256,523 grant.

Grebner says the participants — as many as 35 — would otherwise be hanging out on the streets, “not doing much.” Now he’s concerned that his organization can’t offer them an alternative. And in addition to the training program, Homework Hangout was to start offering family counseling services to help youth cope with stress and self-esteem issues.

“We’re not able to continue the training. We’re not able continue the counseling services. All of that is stopped,” says Grebner. He too says it was difficult to break the news to the young participants. “It’s not the easiest conversation to have,” he says. “The best thing you can tell them is that we’re hoping this is something that’s temporary.”

Asked about the cuts, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly says in an email that Rauner inherited a budget out of balance by $1.5 billion. “The administration is taking action to manage the inherited budget hole and is working with the legislature to find responsible solutions,” she says.