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Apr. 27 2010 - 9:21 am | 429 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Why you should care about the Illinois state budget cuts for the poor

Maybe I’ve just been alive during an incredibly depressing quarter century, but it seems like every year, we have the same fight: budget deficits and service cuts to the most vulnerable.

Politicians say they’re not at fault – something’s gotta give. People in poverty and the nonprofits that help them beg to keep the funding they need to keep going.

What’s missing? The rest of us.

While politicians whine and service providers rally their troops, those of us who don’t need homeless shelters, housing assistance, food pantries, mental health care, or job training sit idly by and watch this yearly drama play out.

We don’t get involved because we’re fortunate enough not to have to care. But we should care. And not just because it’s kind or caring or compassionate of us. We need those social services to keep helping people, or they’re going to have a huge impact on us.

The public perception tends to be that social services are giving handouts, sustaining families in poverty who don’t want to work for a living. But a lot of these social services are run by private nonprofit organizations that offer creative solutions to people who really need help and want to work for it.

Don’t believe me? Listen to Michelle’s story:

Did you hear her? Once someone was willing to help her, she was willing to do the hard work it takes to get off the streets and make a life for a family.

Now she works in a real job – not just flipping burgers – but helping children with their school work. She’s off the streets, not using social services, paying taxes and giving back to her community by engaging with kids.

What more could we want as a society?

That’s the kind of stuff that won’t happen if we cut these programs. It’s not cuts to families who don’t want to work. It’s cuts to families that desperately need help and would be productive, contributing citizens if only they could get in a place where they can actually move forward.

That’s why you should care. Because if programs like Heartland’s are cut, the only thing left that will be funded is regular welfare, which often doesn’t encourage people to move forward. These creative, intelligent programs that actually motivate people will be gone, and with them, the promise of people like Michelle being able to move forward.

That’s why you should care. Now, get involved. Where to start? Heartland’s Poverty to Opportunity campaign can fill you in, or you can check out the Responsible Budget Coalition.

After all, it’s in your self interest.

And you can brag to your friends about how kind, compassionate and caring you are.


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  1. collapse expand

    I suspect your pleas are falling on largely deaf ears at this point. Not that it’s right or compassionate or fair. With millions of highly-educated people out of work, losing their homes, unable to get another job, it’s harder and harder to gin up concern for those even further down the ladder.

    The American way — every man and woman for himself. I doubt it will ever change.

    • collapse expand

      But the thing is – it’s really in our own interest to do so.

      Take property taxes. People are all crazy here over increasing property taxes. And they should be – the taxes they pay are bad and getting worse. Why are the taxes going up? Because tax revenue is down overall.

      Unlike welfare, programs like Heartlands actually push people to get a job and move forward with their lives (sometimes welfare does this, but excuse my skepticism). They pay taxes, which means tax revenue goes up and we benefit.

      But it only works if we see how these things are connected. And that’s more scope and big picture thinking than most people have time or energy for, especially when they’re having difficulty themselves.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Not necessarily, I think Americans are more altruistic and, dare I say, socialist, than most people in the world.

    It’s just that we have established these social prisons and walls around the country that most people in need are separated by distance, lack of communication and stigmas. So until the demonization and dehumanization of minorities, poor and immigrants lowers, I agree that it would never change.

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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

    I have this idea about journalism - that it should be approachable and less "newsy." I want my stories to make you laugh, cry and draw you in to neighborhoods and situations you don't deal with every day. I hate the broadcaster voice. I hate TV news. I hate the inverted pyramid. I love surprise. I love humor. I love people and telling their stories.

    In addition to being a journalist, I also teach dance for the Chicago Public Schools. I don't just do it for the money. I love children and love arts education. I'm also on the board of a new nonprofit dedicated to helping the underserved find jobs called Employing Hope. I write fiction, keep house, and am generally a renaissance woman.

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