June 30, 2017 By Gloria Casas, Elgin Courier News
Gil Fonger is affected by the state of Illinois’ budget crisis both personally and professionally.
He is dad to a 30-year-old daughter with developmental disabilities. He worries the services she receives may be affected by the ongoing budget impasse and what the future holds for his daughter and other families.
“I live everyday with the issue,” Fonger said. What happens if the state doesn’t provide the services his daughter currently has, he said. “I live with the fear every parent with a developmentally disabled child has. What happens to my child when I am gone?”
Fonger’s concerns are compounded by his professional role as president of Marklund.
The nonprofit’s three centers — Hyde Center in Geneva, Marklund Philip Center in Bloomingdale and Marklund Wasmond Center at Little Angels in Elgin — serve infants, children, teens and adults with profound development disabilities and special health care needs.
“Our mission is to make every day possible for individuals with profound disabilities,” Fonger said. “Our vision is a happy, safe, purposeful life for every individual at our facilities.”
“It is a struggle every day to bring our services,” he said.
Illinois could enter a third fiscal year without passing a budget. Social Service agencies, school districts and universities that depend on state funding have campaigned to get lawmakers to pass a budget before Friday’s deadline.
The state owes Marklund $4 million in reimbursements, Fonger said.
It operates on a less than two percent cash margin within a $28 million budget, he said. While the state’s reimbursement rate has not changed since 1996, Marklund is having to fund more of the gap, he said. Marklund has had to operate with a $17,000 gap per client per year, Fonger said. The nonprofit must fundraise more than $3 million per year, he said.
“We operate on such a level that we can’t operate with a cut,” he said.
“Somehow the state needs to come around,” Fonger said. Nonprofits “are funding the $15 billion backlog the state has in bills on the backs of the very people we are trying to serve,” Fonger said.
Parents have a child and the child grows up and moves on, Fonger said. “There is no moving on when you have a child with developmental disabilities.”
“Every day, parents wonder what would happen if Marklund would close?” he said.
Marklund took in a man named Mike about a week ago. His sole caregiver was his 90-year-old father, Fonger said. The agency has a 15 year waiting list, he said. But “Mike’s situation was so dire, he would have gone into a geriatric nursing home. What would happen to Mike if we didn’t have an opening?” he said.
“There are many people living at home right now in Illinois where the parent is 60 years old,” Fonger said, adding there are more developmentally disabled people living at home than are being served in all of the state’s facilities. “There’s a tidal wave of Mikes that will come and there’s no place for them.”
“We are the state’s safety net,” he said.
The budget impasse is hitting the most vulnerable, senior citizens, domestic violence victims, the homeless and children, leaders of social agencies said this week. Women, children, the mentally ill, the homeless and the sick are all affected, Fonger said. “Illinois is the fifth wealthiest state in the country, this should not happen here,” he said.
Senior Services Associates, which has facilities in Elgin, Aurora, McHenry, Yorkville and Crystal Lake, serves a population that is grows every day, Assistant Executive Director Micki Miller said.
Illinois budget crisis “comes at an especially bad time for us,” Miller said. “We have more seniors than ever before with 10,000 (people) a day turning 65.”
Senior Services Associates has not filed numerous positions including abuse investigators, three card coordinators and senior companion staff, Miller said. Some clients have been waiting up for two months to get help in applying for benefits and its senior companion programs was eliminated in the Elgin area, she said.
“If legislators had to squeeze blood out of a turnip like we do, they would learn a lot,” Miller said.
“Our seniors are very important to us. These are vulnerable people. These are people with pride. These are the people who created our community. These are the people who built the roads and who paid taxes. We have to take care of our seniors,” Miller said.
Nonprofit social service agencies are getting to a tipping point, Fonger said. Marklund is managing but, others won’t be able to continue, he said. “It won’t be a slow failure, they will just shut down,” he said.
“The funding levels have been in a steady decline since 1996,” Fonger said. “How do you continue to do business? You have to keep raising more money to find ways to diversify the revenue stream. It has been like boiling a frog. After a while, it gets cooked. Certain places will just be done.”
Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.
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