As of Friday, Ruby Allen-Ellis will no longer have a job.
Allen-Ellis serves as a public health administrator with East Side Health District. She is one of thousands in the state of Illinois that have been laid off from their jobs in social service because of the state’s budget impasse over the past eight months.
“Certainly it impacts my livelihood, but more importantly it impacts the clients we were able to serve under those programs,” Allen-Ellis told “St. Louis on the Air.” “The morale is down in the agency because of it. Even though we still have some core services, no one deserves to be laid off. The families that we have served over the many, many years are being impacted tremendously because of it because the agency can’t serve them.”
Allen-Ellis managed the family case management program with the district since 2006. The entire program has been cut, reducing service to 2,000 clients in St. Clair County, because it accounts for $350,000 in funding that the district never received from the Illinois government.
Numbers like these make the fact that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner barely scratched the surface of the budget crisis during his State of the State on Wednesday hard to stomach for social service providers in the state.
Illinois Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh that many were taken aback by the lack of statements on the matter because it seemed so unavoidable to address.
“It really does seem crazy to think that a governor could stand before senators and representatives for over a half an hour with scant mention of the budget impasse which is historic in nature coming just days after the state’s largest social service provider had announced it was closing some 30 programs, laying off 750 employees because it is waiting on state funding,” Vinicky said, referencing Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’ announcement last week.
“We were all elected to do a job,” Rauner said during the address. “Our job is to improve the quality of life for all the people of Illinois.”
For Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside, a public health administrator with the district now in charge of Allen-Ellis’ duties, statements like these from Rauner are laughable.
“When I heard that, and it was a group of people around the table watching, we all laughed,” Patton-Whiteside said. “That’s ridiculous. We all know with the funding to the schools, that’s good, but if you’re not well, you cannot go to school. Health is your number one thing. Our whole premise is prevention. We prevent diseases to keep people healthy.”
East Side Health District serves four townships in St. Clair County, or about 60-65,000 individuals. In addition to core functions such as investigating communicable diseases (flu, HIV, STDs), restaurant inspections, environmental health inspections of drinking water and private sewage, the health department also does WIC and family case management as well as extra STD services for a county with one of the highest communicable disease rates for HIV and STDs in the state of Illinois. Currently, the department is owed a total of more than $600,000 by the state of Illinois
“It is going to get to the point that we’re going to have to close our doors,” Patton-Whiteside said, indicating she hopes the department will be able to make it through its budget year to July before shutting down. “There will have to be more cuts, thought,” she said.
Patton-Whiteside said that social services in southern Illinois, including the Metro East, are particularly hard hit in the crisis because it does not receive as much federal funding for public health, like Chicago.
“We’re at a breaking point,” Patton-Whiteside said. “The health departments in the state of Illinois have laid off a lot of their staff. At least one-third of the local health departments have laid off their staff. At my facility, I’ve laid off 70 percent off my staff. We’re working at four-day capacity. We cannot do the job the public expects us to do.”
Vinicky said that there is pressure from both Democrats and Republicans on Rauner to do something about the budget situation. Plans that have been floated include a two-year budget that would begin in July and apply retroactively to services that have not been funded in the past year. Read Vinicky’s full article for more information on both sides’ arguments.
For the time being, though, no budget solution will be in sight until Feb. 17, when a budget address to lawmakers has been scheduled by Rauner.
For Allen-Ellis and her staff, the layoffs and pressures of looking for another job are only part of the hurt of the budget impasse.
“We are all crazy about what we do as a profession,” Allen-Ellis said. “We’ve impacted a lot of residents in four different townships, so we are always looking at what we can do to assist the residents. The residents are crying out as well. They want the services. We want to do whatever we can. I’m prayerful and hoping the government and the bipartisan parties getg their act together and begin to look at the impact they’re making on the entire state of Illinois.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.