Chicago youth take the hit in Rauner’s ideological fight

Supporters of after-school programs protest  Gov. Rauner's budget cuts in front of the Thompson Center on April 8, 2015.

Photo by Grace Donnelly

Supporters of after-school programs protest Gov. Rauner's budget cuts in front of the Thompson Center on April 8, 2015.

At the beginning of his term, Gov. Bruce Rauner told his cabinet “this is going to be pretty rough,” but he was willing to “take the arrows” in order to shake up state government.

Several months later, it looks like it’s the people of Illinois who are taking the hits.

In Auburn-Gresham, where 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was shot dead Monday afternoon, two after-school programs aimed at keeping kids off the streets during “prime time for juvenile crime” have been defunded, as Rauner holds the state budget hostage to his union-busting agenda.

At a press conference Tuesday, advocates focused on Teen REACH, a $13.8 million program which served 15,000 students at 120 sites statewide—until July, when state funding was cut off.

The funding shutoff is due to the failure to pass a state budget. But Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget—now in limbo—called for eliminating funding for the program.

Teen REACH offers a safe, structured environment to keep kids off the streets and provides high-quality tutoring, mentoring, and other support. It’s been shown to increase attendance, achievement and graduation rates, according to Action for Illinois Children.

“It’s very, very effective,” said Patrick Brosnan of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “Over time you saw a reduction in violence and lower gang participation. I’m afraid it will work the other way too—over time we will see the impact of these cuts.”

I’ve been to community rallies where kids talked about how Teen REACH turned their lives around—kids who were off-track and in trouble but are now fully engaged and developing impressive leadership skills.

Kids like Jacqueline Cruz: “I was a troubled youth,” she said at a 2012 BPNC rally. “I would cut school and only want to be in the streets. But I’ve been attending school every day and my grades are A’s and B’s.” The pride on her face was beautiful to see.

In Chicago, Teen REACH programs have closed or are on the brink of closing in Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Brighton Park, Chicago Lawn, and seven other communities, mainly on the South and West Sides. (Other sites have remained open but reduced hours and programming.) Among the sites where Teen REACH has closed is the Rauner Family YMCA in Little Village.

With shootings on the rise again, there’s no justification for cutting these programs—no matter what grand vision you may imagine these sacrifices serve.

Young people aren’t the only ones taking arrows for the governor’s agenda. Voices’ Fiscal Policy Center has detailed cutbacks and shutdowns of programs in scores of areas, with longterm damage to many essential services looming. And a new campaign by SEIU Healthcare Illinois emphasizes cuts in child care and home care.

Separate from the budget process, the Rauner administration has promulgated administrative rules drastically reducing eligibility for these programs. Some 15,000 families have lost access to child care, and 34,000 elderly and disabled people have lost home care that keeps them out of nursing homes.

“The problem… is that it is the most vulnerable who are paying the price, while his fellow billionaires and the banks remain untouched,” commented SEIU vice president James Muhammad in a statement.

In September, the General Assembly passed a measure reversing the administration’s restrictions on eligibility for home care; Rauner has until Nov. 9 to sign or veto the bill. On Nov. 10, the House is expected to vote on a bill to restore eligibility standards for child care, which the Senate approved in August.

Politico reports that Rauner is pushing hard to block restoration of the child care subsidy.

Meanwhile, more evidence is in on the huge gap between Rauner’s ideological agenda and economic reality.  For one thing, he continues to demand cuts in workers compensation before he considers a budget resolution. A new report shows that reforms passed by Democrats in 2011—reforms which can create hardships for seriously injured workers—have reduced average medical payments on claims in Illinois; they’re now lower than in Indiana, Wisconsin, or Iowa.

Then there’s Rauner’s demand that the prevailing wage be eliminated in order to lower workers’ pay on public construction projects. Rich Miller does the numbers using projections by the pro-Rauner camp and finds that the savings are in fact miniscule.

For this our governor is willing to throw students out on the street and seniors out of their homes.

Let’s hope he can be thrown out of office—before his plans to purchase a second branch of state government come to fruition. Or before he crashes state government altogether.