Macomb, IL – Human service agencies across western Illinois are waiting to see how much they'll have to cut back to make up for state funding shortfalls.
One of those agencies is Bridgeway, with offices across western and central Illinois, as well as southeast Iowa. The company provides a variety of services to those with mental disabilities, including vocational services and housing.
But many Bridgeway services are in jeopardy due to an uncertain state budget picture. Company president Jim Starnes says he'll soon be asked by the state to determine what Bridgeway needs to operate for the year. But he doesn't expect the state to pay all of it.
For example, he says the state has already indicated it will no longer pay for the company's vocational training program. It places job coaches with Bridgeway consumers in Macomb and across Illinois to help them find and retain work.
"The state of Illinois has chosen to say vocational services, putting people back to work when the economy is worse right now than it's been in decades, and people need jobs... that's one of the services they're no longer going to pay for," says Starnes.
Starnes says it's unclear at this point how many jobs will be lost in Macomb, and how many consumers will go without services.
The state has, however, agreed to restore some funding to the company's residential program for people with chronic mental illnesses.
The Penny Campaign
In an attempt to bring attention to Bridgeway's dire financial straits, employees across the system mailed tens of thousands of letters to Governor Quinn's office asking that money be restored to the state's mental health services. It was called the Penny Campaign because inside each letter was one penny.
Starnes says including money, no matter how small the amount, forced the governor's staff to open the letters.
"Every time you send an elected official money, they at least have to open that letter, they have to account for that money, and they actually have to put down that the money was a contribution," says Starnes. "The idea was that it isn't just one person or a few people that are going to be hurt, it's a large contingency that will be hurt."
"I think the governor listened. But unfortunately with limited revenue, he's still unable to fully restore our services."
Starnes estimates between 30,000 and 50,000 letters reached the governor's office.