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Behind in state payments, agency to shut down teen parent program

by Admin in From the Executive Director

A home-visiting program operated by Springfield’s Family Service Center for 70 low-income teenage parents will shut down this week because of chronic delays in state payments.

The not-for-profit center’s board voted last week to indefinitely suspend the Young Parent Support Services program — designed to prevent child abuse and promote educational success — after the state’s ongoing budget crisis led to a payment delay of six months and counting.

Federal funds to support home-visiting programs arrived on time at the Illinois Department of Human Services, but that money has been delayed because matching state funds have been unavailable.

The state says it cannot pay out the federal money until a certain level of matching state funds is reached.

“These young mothers really need the support when they often don’t have the support at home,” center executive director Erin Predmore said on Dec. 16.
The program’s six family support specialists — all with college degrees and paid an average of $25,000 a year — have been told their last day of employment will be this Friday, Predmore said.

Impact statewide

It’s unclear whether or when the workers will be recalled. The center is owed about $122,000 in state and federal funds by the state Department of Human Services. That represents 42 percent of the program’s annual budget, and Predmore said it’s unclear when the money will arrive.

The six-month delay is pinching dozens of not-for-profit organizations statewide that operate similar home-visiting programs designed to help thousands of low-income Illinois families avoid child abuse and neglect, said Diana Rauner, president of the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund.

“This is terribly unfair to the most vulnerable and unfair to the people who are doing God’s work around the state,” said Rauner, whose agency acts as a fiscal intermediary between local home-visiting programs and state government.

Predmore said Springfield’s program, which receives most of its support from federal funds, could continue to operate if the state forwarded federal money it already has received.

Rauner said the fact that the federal and state funds aren’t sent out separately to home-visiting programs wasn’t an issue until two years ago, when the state budget crisis resulted in long delays in payment to the Ounce. The Ounce forwards the funds to local agencies around the state.

Rauner said state officials should “re-prioritize” state spending so charitable agencies with limited cash flow — and their disadvantaged clients — don’t suffer.

“Our politicians are cynically allowing all these programs to take the hit,” she said.

Payment uncertain

Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said she doesn’t know when the state will be able to pay $4.2 million owed to home-visiting programs funded through the Ounce.

“This stems from the state’s backlog of bills,” Smith said. “Currently, the state has approximately $7 billion in past-due bills that have been created over decades of fiscal mismanagement.”

She said Gov. Pat Quinn‘s administration continues to work with legislators to authorize a borrowing plan she called “debt restructuring.”

“This is not new borrowing,” she said, “but rather the restructuring of bills already owed at lower interest rates to pay our involuntary lenders immediately. One of the best ways to promote economic growth is to pay these bills, which will provide immediate financial relief to our vendors, keep vital services up and running and preserve and create jobs.”

Haven of support, guidance

Teen parents who enroll in the Family Service Center’s voluntary program receive parenting advice, guidance in setting priorities, and referrals for help with food and utility bills. They take part in a support group for young, mostly unwed parents and enjoy a break while their children are cared for at the center, 730 E. Vine St.

They also build relationships with caseworkers who can help them deal with stress, said Amy Gorens, one of the family support specialists scheduled to be laid off.
With limited mental-health counseling available to low-income people in Springfield, the loss of emotional support could lead to young parents harming themselves or their children, she said.

“I’m worried that when a crisis comes up, they may not know who they can turn to,” Gorens said. “They might be in danger of being at a breaking point.”

Springfield resident Aimee Gant, 20, who gave birth out of wedlock when she was 15, said she has received services through the program for the past five years.
“It helped me with being a teen mom,” she said. “I was kind of lost.”

Gant said the program’s workers gave her the confidence to complete a general equivalency diploma after dropping out of Springfield High School her sophomore year.
Without the program, she said she probably would have given her daughter, Krystyna, up for adoption.

“I’m glad I kept her, because she means the world to me,” she said.

Gant, who was laid off in May from a full-time job at a local vending company, is taking part in a postsecondary program to become certified as a medical assistant by December 2012. She said she receives child support from her daughter’s father and unemployment compensation.

Gorens, 35, was a 16-year-old unwed mother in the program about 19 years ago. She credited the program with helping her complete a GED and go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.

Now married with two children, she expects to receive a master’s in social work from the University of Illinois in May. But she worries about her own family’s finances and whether she should look for another job or wait in hopes of being called back to work.

Gorens’ husband is an attendant for a special-education student in the Springfield School District, and she hopes her family’s impending loss of income doesn’t force her 18-year-old daughter to drop out of Illinois Wesleyan University.

Gorens was laid off for three months in 2009 during a similar state-funding crisis that prompted the Family Service Center to temporarily downsize, but not shut down, the program.

Dean Olsen can be reached at 788-1543.

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