By Marty Hobe
Posted Jan. 29, 2016 at 5:43 AM
GALESBURG — The ongoing state budget impasse has had a glaring impact on the United Way branches in both Knox and Warren counties.
Jeannie Hunter Weber, the executive director of the Warren County United Way, said two of the organization’s agencies closed this year due to the state budget impasse.
The Carl Sandburg College Literacy Coalition and a program to help single parents through the Lutheran Social Services have both shut down while the state is without a budget.
She added while other services are still operational, they are struggling without state funding.
“Our health department has had to reduce its hours to four days a week rather than five,” Weber said. “We have several different agencies that do things like deliver meals to seniors in various communities and each month they have to meet to determine whether or not they’re going to borrow against their own budget to keep feeding people.”
Ann Tucker-Lockhart, the executive director of the United Way of Knox County, said her agency also supported the Lutheran and Sandburg programs until they shut down. The remaining agencies in Knox County are struggling as well, including the Visiting Nurse Association which Tucker-Lockhart said cut all clients except those who, “have absolutely no one here in Knox County so they rely 100 percent on the VNA.”
“A couple agencies applying for grants, were awarded grants but again you’re not seeing any money,” she said. “It’s very difficult to run an organization when you count on those funds and they don’t come in.”
The issue is a statewide one. According to a survey conducted by the United Way, 85 percent of responding branches across Illinois reported cutting the number of clients this month. In central Illinois, including both Warren and Knox counties, the study said more than 35 percent of domestic violence and sexual assault assistance, youth development, adult education and job training programs have all been by more than 20 percent.
Along with struggling agencies, Knox County’s fundraising campaign is lagging behind as well, and was only at about 70 percent of its goal nearing its Jan. 31 deadline as of Monday. The final goal is $350,000.
Tucker-Lockhart said this week the United Way received a bit of good news that $34,000 was coming from Caterpillar employees through the company’s matching donation program. Still, she called this year’s campaign the toughest one she’s done in her 10 years at the United Way.
“But we’re still not there and the unfortunate thing about that is that now we are going to have to look at agencies,” she said. “Either one, we’re not going to be able to fund every one that’s submitted an application or two, we fund what we can but it’s going to be significantly less at a time when they’re needing more money.”
However, Warren County’s campaign is thriving despite the lack of a state budget, and Weber said it’s a testament to the community’s ability to come together.
The Warren County branch received its “biggest, largest pledge in history,” from Smithfield Foods at approximately $36,000 to kick off this year’s campaign. Weber said her organization reached out to new businesses and had success there as well.
“It speaks volumes about what our community is able to do and this is something that I have felt since I returned to Monmouth a year ago,” Weber said.
The Warren County United Way aims to raise $200,000 by the middle of February. While the campaign has been a strong one, Weber said there is still work to be done.
“The last $15,000 is going to be the most difficult because we have done most of our internal campaigns but I am very, very confident that our community will step up to this,” Weber said.
In Knox County, while things have been a struggle Tucker-Lockhart said there have been bright spots worth noting. Employees at OSF St. Mary’s Medical Center tripled their donations this year over last.
Both Tucker-Lockhart and Weber said they were proud of their communities for stepping up while the state continues without a budget.
“I think Ann would probably agree with me that we are both feeling very happy with the response that our community has, but we are incredibly disappointed in our state government,” Weber said.
The directors also urged residents to contact their local lawmakers about the effect the budget impasse has on the United Way and it’s agencies, and both organizations have contact information to reach local legislators on their websites.
Also, anyone who wants to donate or volunteer can find out how to do so on the website, or call their county office. Warren County can be reached at (309) 734-6364 and the Knox County office number is (309) 343-4434.
State Budget Impasse - from Galesburg Register-Mail