NEWS

KCCDD the face of state financial woes

Matt Hutton

Much of the focus on the state’s budget problems has been centered on Springfield politics and the personalities involved.

But following an editorial in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune a local organization has tried to put another face on it. A face like Pete Gargano’s. Or Paul Akers. Or Susan Hammerick. Or a host of others who are employed through KCCDD’s Phoenix Industries, 1200 Monmouth Blvd. KCCDD is a non-profit organization that provides services to those community members with developmental disorders or physical disabilities.

The Sunday editorial brought attention to the fact that the state is a record four months behind in issuing payments. About 90 percent of the organization’s $5.4 million annual budget comes from state funding. KCCDD is currently owed more than $1.14 million in state payments.

And it is one of more than 500 organizations state-wide in the same boat, said KCCDD executive director Mary Crittenden. In fact, according to Comptroller Dan Hynes, the state owes more than $1.7 billion to various agencies.

“It’s not anything unique to us,” she said.

So, while KCCDD has drawn attention to the problem and become the face of the issue, it is far from alone.

“That the state is seriously behind, we’ve been fighting that for 30 years,” she said. “That’s not a new issue. The issue is, it’s going on longer and longer and longer.”

It has lasted so long that KCCDD has had to go beyond the usual measures it takes when the state falls behind in its payments. Normally, it can borrow from its capital fund to stay afloat. It has used much of the fund in the past, but for the first time it has been completely depleted, with KCCDD tapping into it for more than $320,000. KCCDD has had a $1 million credit line through Wells Fargo for about 17 years — and it had never needed to access it until December 2007. But on Dec. 20, it borrowed $220,000 and on Monday it took another $90,000 to make January payroll.

“KCCDD’s Director of Finance Jeff Gomer said the state did issue a payment yesterday of about $192,000, which covers part of the September services. Gomer said he expected another $87,000 to be delivered soon that would cover the rest of September. Even as it receives payments, KCCDD will have to make a choice between repaying its own capital fund or paying off its Wells Fargo credit line, which is racking up $68 in interest costs per day. So while they appreciate the money, Crittenden said the organization is still feeling the pinch.”

“Every day that goes by the state owes us more and more,” Crittenden said.

The state is supposed to pay interest in these situations, but Hynes told Crittenden there are so many loopholes KCCDD will never see that interest payment. Which is what makes Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempts to provide health care for everyone infuriating for Crittenden.

“There’s a limit. I don’t know how the governor can be talking about increasing health care when he can’t pay for what we’re already doing,” she said, adding organizations like hers help those most targeted by the governor’s plan. “Take a look at who we serve — the poor, the physically challenged.”

The state was already lagging behind in spending on programs for those with developmental disorders. According to a University of Illinois study, the amount the state is spending on those programs ranked 40th in the nation.

“There is no way (universal health care) can happen. Now he’s talking about seniors not paying for CTA,” Crittenden said. “This is not Disneyland, this is the state of Illinois.”

If it were Disneyland, Crittenden would be able to fill the four or five positions left vacant because of the self imposed hiring freeze the budget crunch has caused her to implement. The organization also has been forced to cut supplies and trim line items across the board.

But Crittenden’s biggest concern is getting pay raises to her more than 130 employees. Their last salary boost was 1 percent in 2006. And with state mandated increases to the minimum wage coming, by July entry level positions could be paid almost as much as someone with a degree and training who has been there for 15 years.

“I think being able to offer fair pay for staff members is a big issue,” she said. “We do transportation for 400 people every day; 90 people need wheel chairs. Just getting back and forth takes a huge toll (on staff memers).”

Because of wise investments over the years, KCCDD has resources some of the other 500 organizations across the state do not, and so far has been able to avoid cutting essential services. But if the strain continues, it might need to cut back on community integration programs.

Crittenden said her organization is in no danger of closing, but she knows of some that are.

“The human services perspective is when you’re dealing with people’s lives, you hope politics don’t play a roll,” she said. “It’s maddening.”

Contact Matt Hutton at mhutton@register-mail.com