Friday, March 28, 2014

Death Hits Hard

Death hits hard, not only for the dying, but for those of us still alive. I’m pretty sure our understanding of death, our fear of it, changes the way we live.

For example, not long ago I was driving my car down an Ottawa street and pulled over, parking alongside a house on a residential street. I had received a text message from a relative and needed to return it. I sat motionless in the driver’s seat, my car idling, my head bowed looking at my smart phone, my thumbs working furiously. I was startled by a tapping on the passenger side window. It scared me. A man was crouched beside my car, smiling broadly. I rolled down the window.


“Thanks, I’m fine. Just texting. I thought I’d be safe for a change and pull over.”


I wanted to finish my text but listened politely.


“He was dead?”

“YOU GUESSED IT. DEADER THAN A FREAKIN DOORNAIL, RIGHT THERE ON THE STREET!!!” He said that even louder than capital letters can express.


“That must have been quite a shock.”


“Well I’ll be gone in just a few minutes here myself, except I’m going to drive away. Sorry to bring up bad memories, but as you can see, I’m still breathing.”

The man at my car window laughed. He was a long good bye kind of a guy. He repeated parts of the same story just told, an abbreviated version, and laughed some more. He proved hard to get rid of. That’s an annoying habit, and one I hope I don’t fall into as time stretches out in the years to come. But finally he walked back to his house, I finished my text, and that was that. But it turned out to be an omen for things to come.

I’m sixty two. I’ll be sixty three in August. But it’s funny how our definition of old changes as we age. I’m learning about deaths in our community first now on Face Book. I don’t know what to think about that. It’s much the same as opening the newspaper to the obituary section and having the news of an old friend’s death slap you in the face, but there’s something creepy about seeing the news on your phone. Maybe I’ll get used to it. The Face Book post I first saw was from an old friend’s daughter, referring to missing her father. She was our first babysitter after our daughter was born. She’s now in her forties. And while I used to attend funeral services to console my friends who lost their parents, I’m now attending the funerals of friends. There’s a very big difference. My friends are like me.

The man whose funeral I attended died accidentally and alone in his home, his death discovered a short time later. He was sixty three. That’s so young. When I was moved up into the YSB office from a caseworker’s position, he took my place as the counselor in Ottawa. He had a great way with kids, and parents, and later used those same skills to work for the city enforcing building and other municipal codes. He was tactful. He spoke to people in a kind way. And he enjoyed life very much. Too much sometimes. He had a spark. And now he and that spark are gone.

Tuesday night I was in the shack listening to music and before I went into the house I checked my phone and found yet another fatal Face Book post. It was a post written by a young man, shared by his father, lamenting the loss of his grandmother. His grandmother was one of my first board presidents when I became director of YSB. I met her three years earlier when I first came to work at the agency. She was a single mother raising a family of four kids, which included twin junior high girls, and working very hard to make ends meet. No one would have blamed her if she said she didn’t have time to do charity work but she did it anyway. She served as a volunteer on this county’s first mental health board, was a charter member of YSB’s first board of directors, and went on to help United Way immensely. She was smart. She had drive and tenacity. She died suddenly, also alone in her home, of an acute condition still undetermined. She was seventy one. I now count that as very young also.

I am hungry for many more years of life. Just as I am anxious for this spring to arrive I am equally anticipating many more springs. I’d take twenty more or so, and more if I can retain enough brain cells to think and write. I’ll even live through winters like the last one to be alive for twenty more springs. In an attempt to avoid death I’ve finally heeded all the dire warnings and pulled over to text, just as I quit smoking thirty years ago and recently got serious about taking my cholesterol medication every day. I want to live a lot longer. I go so far as to expect to, as I’m sure my friends did. But in a flash they are gone.

It’s not that I saw these friends every day. I didn’t at all. Our lives took different paths. But we had a sort of bond because we worked together and knew each other in good ways. Whenever I saw either of my recently departed friends we would take time to talk, and catch up. We always talked about our families. I think we all cared deeply about our own kids, just as we cared about the kids YSB served. Couple of times a year we would run into each other and talk. When we last talked we didn’t know we would never talk again.

So it’s not that I’ll especially miss the contact with my recently departed, because it was so infrequent. It’s that the community seems now to be different without them. That may be a silly sentiment, and I don’t exactly know how to explain it, but I can’t shake it. They were here when I arrived. They were two of the people that made this town what it is. I know others step up to fill their shoes, but their lives had meaning, and they brought meaning to mine. I miss them already. I’m starting to lose my friends, and as I do I realize how much they mean to me. These deaths, and those sure yet to come, will not be easy by any means. It’s going to be painful. I didn’t see this coming.

Friday, March 21, 2014

We've Only Just Begun

In the category of coincidental and strange these two events both happened during this past week. On Wednesday night I was at church waiting in line for a bowl of soup at our Lenten service when I looked on the floor and saw a tiny slip of paper. I picked it up and found it was a fortune from a cookie. It read “All of us are ignorant, only on different subjects.” I put it in my pocket.

Thursday my wife brought home Chinese food from a local takeout joint and in it were two fortune cookies. I opened mine and found, for the first time ever, no fortune. It took me until today, when I found Wednesday’s fortune in my pocket, to put the two events together. I can only surmise that the message on the tiny paper I found the night before belonged in that empty cookie and was especially meant for me. We all know, or should, that we’re ignorant, but it’s good to be reminded.

And now to the week’s main event:-the primary election. I was an election judge for the first time. Why? That’s a good question. My Mom was an election judge. I grew up in a part of Illinois where there were so few Democrats it’s possible everyone with that affiliation worked the polls. I’d served as a poll watcher for a couple of elections, including Obama’s election six years ago, so I was familiar with what went on. I believe we all need to be involved in our political system, and this was a way to do so. So I applied to be a judge. I don’t think they turn many people down.

There must be a balance you know, in Illinois’ system, of a Democratic judge for every Republican judge. In the precinct I worked, not the one in which I vote, I served with two Republican judges, a middle aged couple who had been working elections for a very long time, and a seventeen year old from a local rural high school. I think it’s smart to involve young people. He was excited to have been selected as a judge, to have the day off school, and to enjoy 4G on his smart phone all day. He and I were lucky to be serving with veterans who were nice people that knew what they were doing and helped us learn.

Every judge attends a training every year and receives a handbook of rules that outline their duties and details every part of what happens at the polling places; when to allow provisional ballots, how to operate the ballot reading machine, how to care for the ballots, how far from the door of the polling place campaign materials may be displayed, how and to administer the oath and to whom. I had no idea. On paper it’s intimidating but in practice it went very smoothly. The training for judges was conducted by our County Clerk, whom we also elect. She knows her stuff and is a hands on county official. If we had a question her office was a phone call away and they answered immediately. In addition they sent people to the polling place to ask us how things were going. I was impressed.

There is no head judge but rather we make decisions as a group on a consensus model. Duties are segregated so that Democratic and Republican judges share them equally. The ballots and the system for counting them are closely monitored and controlled with lots of checks and balances. The count on the machine must agree with the number of ballots distributed and the number of ballot requests singed by registered voters on the spindle. There are lots of ways to make sure everything is in order. It works. The only feasible opportunity I can imagine for fraud in the system would be collusion among judges to stuff the box with ballots of people who did not vote. I worked in a large hall that served as the polling place for six West side Ottawa precincts. Looking at the people serving as judges in those precincts, many of whom I knew, there’s just no way that would occur. From observing who showed up at the training and at the precincts as judges I know good people are involved. I can’t speak for the rest of the state, but here in LaSalle County I’m confident we have the concept of free and orderly elections under control. I have a new respect for the process. Developing democracies should be so lucky.

Not that elections are cheap. Election judges are paid. I don’t know all the costs to running an election but if there are four judges at each precinct, the cost of judges being reimbursed for their efforts in the 119 precincts in LaSalle County alone is a little over $57,.000. That does not count printing costs of all the many ballots, the investment and maintenance involved in the voting machines, and other things of which I’m sure I’m not aware.

Very few of us voted in this primary. LaSalle County has a population of 112,973. Of those 66,775 are registered to vote. Between early voting and Tuesday’s showing 12,244 ballots were cast for an 18% turnout. In the precinct I worked 579 voters are registered and 74 of them voted, for just under 13%. That’s low by every standard. Republican ballots were taken by 45 voters, Democratic ballots by 29. That’s not to say there were Republicans or Democrats in those numbers, it only reflects the ballot they chose to take that day.

Of course in Illinois you must request either a Republican or Democratic ballot. I gather from Face Book that bothers people. I honestly don’t know the arguments for and against that practice. I do know that a lot of people crossed over, or took ballots of the opposite party in order to participate in another contest. In Tuesday’s election that would be primarily Democrats taking Republican ballots in order to vote for a particular candidate for Governor, which I’m guessing would be Dillard over Rauner. I’m just guessing because it’s a secret ballot, but I’m fairly sure about the crossing over because it’s a small community and I knew many of the people voting.

People I’ve been with in Springfield identifying with and participating in Democratic party politics took Republican ballots, sometimes sheepishly, in order to influence the Republican gubernatorial race. My Republican election judge counterpart was especially interested in our precinct results for that contest. When he saw our little precinct had, at the end of a slow and boring day, Rauner winning by five votes he let out a worried sigh, taking it as an ominously bad sign. He proved right. Of course it all depends on how you look at it. His primary interest is as a state employee. He has been involved in AFSCME as a local union leader and fears a Rauner administration would be “a mess” for state employees. I’m guessing he may be right on that count as well. But we’ll have to see.

There are people of both parties in all kinds of occupations, with divergent views on every issue, who have as many different takes on politics as you can imagine. When we begin to generalize about each other according to what party we say we belong to we’re just fooling ourselves. Nothing and nobody is that simple. You are reminded of that when you give your neighbors their ballots. I know many of them as individuals, not Republicans or Democrats. As real people we are much too complex to be thought of as a package of beliefs espoused by the party with which we identify. That’s worth remembering I think. It is so convenient to pigeonhole each other, to think we know what other people believe because of a political label. Doing so is ignorant of human nature. And it’s good to realize our ignorance every so often, as a wise author in a fortune cookie factory once wrote.

Elections are humbling experiences because all kind of people vote-rich and poor, young and old, working and retired, professional and non professional, white and otherwise, informed and without a clue. It’s truly the people, warts and all, choosing for whatever reasons they hold dear, based on whatever information or lack of information they’ve gathered, who will represent them. It’s the collective us choosing them. It may not be pretty but it is certainly democratic. We’re hurt however when so few of us participate. It allows politicians to be chosen by too few. In elections I’m pretty sure the more voters the better.

Not that voting is an especially invigorating experience, especially in the primary. On the Democratic ballot there were virtually no contests. It was either no candidate or one candidate save for County Treasurer and State Central Committeeman. And few if any present in the hall Tuesday knew what a State Central Committeeman actually does. Conventional wisdom among the election judges I talked to, twenty of them or so, was that they act as the precinct committeeman’s committeeman in Springfield. We do not believe they get paid. At least we hope not.

I was interested in the County Treasurer’s race because one of the candidates running was a bright young man, the same age as my son, with a MBA and a desire to get involved. That’s rare and should be encouraged. I think there must be so many ways we can modernize and bring efficiencies to local government using the ideas, especially around technology, of smart young people. He won by a thin margin over an older candidate with some political experience and a good local name. That’s positive I think.

Other than those races there were no referenda and little actually happening. Aside from the Governor’s race on the Republican side their ballot was equally dull. We’re still electing both a State Comptroller and Treasurer, rather than combining those offices, for no apparent reason. We’re electing a Regional Superintendent of Schools. No issues arise concerning those offices. Few of us understand their duties. In LaSalle County we’re filling a large portion of our 29 County board member seats. At least we were spared the township elections. I’ve been told that in Illinois we elect more public officials than in any other state. I believe it.

It’s not a well oiled operation, Illinois politics, it’s clunky and old and due for an overhaul. But I think you have to be part of it, pay attention to it, and be ready to vote for change when change is needed. It starts with the primary. I’ll be there working at the general election too. I’ve sort of signed on for a cycle here. The silly season of election year politics is just getting underway. I’ll report again in November, or maybe once or twice along the way. Who knows what happens next?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Finding your Place

Remember that young man I bailed out of jail one of those many cold nights this winter? I’m still in touch with him, trying most lately get him proper identification. He has none, zippo, and finds without it he can do very little-buy a bus ticket, open a bank account, fill a prescription, get a job, and so on. How he came to be living without identification is, he says, a long story.

Actually, it’s not long at all. In the interest of personal safety, as in, I’m convinced, fearing for his life, he walked away from an apartment which had in it his driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, high school transcript, a manila folder with the important papers we all have somewhere, usually entrusted to us when by our parents after reaching adulthood. In addition to those items he also walked away from everything he owned. Ran away is likely a more accurate verb to apply to what happened back then, far from here. How he found himself in that predicament probably is a long story, and I don’t want to hear it. But from what little I gather running away may well have been a good decision. But it left him nameless, paperless, cardless, without identify. Surprisingly he found an employer and a job that required none of that for a short while. But that was months and months ago. Now he’s unemployed and pretty much stranded.

I’ve always had all the documents I needed to prove myself a legitimate person with a traceable past. However I did get one of those jobs, like my young friend, that required nothing but a strong back and showing up. While traveling in Europe I found myself in Aberdeen, Scotland working some low level but real job in an urban lumber yard, having failed to get onto an oil rig in the North Sea as planned. In a bar I met three Irish kids new to town who had made their way up North hoping to work for a guy they knew from back home, County Cork I think, who was assembling a crew to do the dirty work of laying a natural gas pipeline North of Aberdeen by a town called Peterhead. They invited me to come along.

We ended up outside a tiny house late at night on a dark street in a bad part of Aberdeen, the light from inside the house blocked by a very big man in the doorway. I stood behind the Irishmen as they introduced themselves, referencing relatives of the man they knew from a community back home, whom he recognized. He shook their hands and told them the corner where they should meet the bus in the morning to take them to the job.

“And we met this Yankee,” the most talkative of the three said, “who looks like he could work. Grew up on a farm he tells us.”

He stepped aside so the man could see me better. He looked me over without smiling, not saying a word. When he did speak he spoke to them not me.

“Well he’s big enough. Bring him along.”

That ended the shortest job interview in my life. There was an oil boom in the North Sea, labor was in short supply, and the man hiring us that night was there to deliver able bodies to work. He had just included mine.

I worked that job till the weather, mostly rain and mud, shut it down. At noon each Friday while it lasted the man that hired me came out to the job in the Scottish lowland countryside in a tweed sport coat, its pockets bulging with cash. His assistant, a fast talking little man with a squeaky voice, called out our names and the foreman in the field, consulting a dirty list he kept in his shirt pocket, confirmed how many days we worked that week. The man then counted out an appropriate wad of paper notes, each man stepped forward to take his pay, and we went back to work. They never called my name. When it came my turn the man with the squeaky voice simply yelled


After which I walked up and got my money. It was a simple arrangement. I did think from time to time that if the Caterpillar tractors with side mounted booms, while swinging the big pipes up onto the timbers we stacked as a platform in the mud on which they were welded, had hit me in the head and killed me they would never know who I was. Maybe my Irish friends would alert the people at the hostel where I lived and they would find my passport. Hard telling what would have happened. Needless worry. As you can tell I made it through that experience just fine.

As did my young friend, who successfully negotiated a similar but safer experience in America on his own. As far as I can tell that stands as one of the few successes of his life. But he finds himself today in a different time and place. Without ID in this century he is less than invisible, he’s suspect. So I set out to help him become authentic, a real person once again, with papers. At times he’s skeptical, but cooperative. His demeanor is of a person beaten down. Hope barely flickers in his eyes when he talks about the future. I tell him making himself legitimate is his only chance to enjoy a decent life. I’m not sure he sees it.

He started with absolutely nothing that would identify him. Our first step was to go on line with the county in which he was born to order up a birth certificate. Not hard. He knew his birthday, his full name, his parent’s full names (including his Mom’s maiden name) and that was all it took, plus twenty dollars. Did it all on line with a credit card (not his).

Next we ordered a transcript from the high school he attended, a document which would contain his social security number. He didn’t graduate from that school mind you. He later got a GED from another school. That wasn’t what we were after. We were after a piece of paper from a legitimate place (schools have a solid sort of standing) that confirmed he was who he said he was and contained his social security number. We got that one fairly easily as well, after they received a personal check (not his either). The only complicated part was the confirmation process. They required a phone number in order to talk personally with the former student and confirm it was truly him requesting the document. Phone numbers are a mess for the poor these days.

He’s only been in town since last fall but I have in my phone at least five numbers for this kid. I’ve taken to entering the number, his name, and the month in which it’s active. He loses phones, runs out of minutes, gets old phones from people buying new ones, calls on the phones of friends. It’s a jumbled communication mess. His numbers are fluid, from month to month, or week to week. He texts me, because it’s cheaper, from an unrecognizable number and starts his message with

“Hey Dave, it’s me. Here’s my new number.”

I used to know the phone numbers of my friends and relatives by heart. They were land lines and the numbers never changed. They were in the phone book. I can still recall them. That’s over. We had to give his old school district a number so they could talk directly to him to verify his request. We did so and hoped the current connection lasted until they processed the application. It did. He texted me one day to say he’s just talked to someone at the school district office who “asked him a bunch of stuff” and predicted the transcript would arrive within five days. It did, in my mailbox.

Armed with that and the birth certificate, along with some bills indicating his address, we went to the Secretary of State’s office in Ottawa, took a number, and after a very short wait were called to the counter. This young man grew up in an urban area. “Back home you would wait hours to get called,” he said. Almost everyone realizes enjoys that advantage of small town life, or should. We take so much for granted.

His documents proved not enough to get a photo ID. We were given a list that designated acceptable proof of identity in each of four sections, and delineated what was not acceptable for each section. The residency section requires two documents, neither of which we had. Common to all the sections save for residency was a social security card. So we got in my car and headed to Peru to the relatively new Social Security office on Wenzel Road.

There were three people waiting including us, a security guard, and a couple of staff behind the counter. I have a new appreciation for the Social Security system since they began to deposit money in my bank account. I thought to myself that working for them must be a good job, Federal, with pensions. That being said the staff didn’t look all that happy.

The security guard showed us to a touch screen computer for a little machine interview. The first question was “Do you have an appointment?” to which my young friend answered no. Given the lack of folks waiting it didn’t appear that would be a problem. The security guard directed us to take a seat until we were called.

As we waited an older man, perhaps a little younger than me, with a very long beard, worn out boots, and a folder full of papers approached the counter after his name was called. He, like my young friend, was trying to establish his identify and get a new social security card. He presented his stuff with the pronouncement “this is all I have.” The woman behind the desk, who was curt, shuffled though the documents and told him it wasn’t good enough. She gave him a list similar, I guessed, to the one we were given at the Secretary of State’s office, and pointed out what he lacked.

“But I know my social security number,” he said. “And I’ve paid into social security.”

“Yes but how do I know that you are the person associated with that number, sir? You have not proven your identity.”

“But these papers are all I have.”

“You’ve said that several times but what you have is not sufficient.”

“Is there someone else I can talk to?”

“No one else will tell you any different. We have strict rules. Now please step away from the counter. We’ll be glad to help you when you produce the documents required on this list.”

There was a long pause finally broken by the woman behind the counter. “You can stare me down all you want sir, but we’re done here. I can call the security guard and you can be escorted out the door.”

He didn’t move. “Jack?” she announced loudly. “Will you please show this gentleman the door?”

The guy stayed at the desk. The security guard came over and talked to him about the list, pointing out that he would be best served by getting a birth certificate.

“But I was adopted,” he said.

“Then you‘ll need your adoption papers. What you need to do is to contact some of these places on the list who have your records, get them, and bring them here. We don’t look them up for you.”

The security guard was more helpful than the woman behind the counter. The bearded man turned and walked quickly out the door. He looked absolutely disgusted. Or was it defeated? Those looks can be a lot alike.

It was my young friend’s turn next. He breezed through. We had a newly issued birth certificate, a school transcript with his social security number on it, and that was all we needed. The woman behind the counter, much more pleasant than before, promised to mail a replacement card to my young friend’s current address. I cringed at that. He lives in an apartment with a relative and I’m not sure how secure the mailboxes are in that building. But mailing to that address might help establish residency for him. I warned him to find out when the mailman came and to check every day close to that time. Whether he will is anyone’s guess. But he seemed encouraged at the ease of the transaction.

“It’s going well because you’re getting your shit together,” I said, borrowing an old phrase from the sixties. “Once we get all your shit in one bag you’ll be ready to get on with a real life.”

As I watched that bearded old guy walk out of the social security office I realized that I didn’t want my young friend to be him. I didn’t want his life, thirty five years from now, to be one of what I imagined was constant struggle, and finding yourself entering the last part of your life with nothing to show for it. I shouldn’t judge. The old bearded man may have had a lifetime of rich experience and only recently fell on hard times. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think I saw the struggle in his eyes. I see that same despair sometimes in the face of my young friend, during this cold Illinois winter when nothing good has happened for him. I know how that feels.

I have never lost my passport or had a driver’s license get away from me. But I have had times in my life when I had no idea what I was going to do next. No hint of a plan, and no ambition to put one together. In that way I understand my young friend. He won’t even talk about the future unless I make him because it scares him. I don’t think he’s convinced he has one.

Even when I felt most uncertain of my future, like standing in the mud as a Yankee laborer in Scotland, I always felt I had assets. I had caring parents and stable family, an education, a work history, and some confidence. I got a good part of that confidence from being successful in jobs. I worked hard, they kept me on, and I was paid for my efforts. In addition to that I always felt I had skills.

What I want for my young friend, in addition to establishing his identity on paper, is to find an identity within himself. He needs to be successful at something, anything, so that he develops confidence in his ability to make his own way. He doesn’t start with my assets. His life has not followed the same path as mine, but then we all come from different places. I believe it is too late for no one. Keep your fingers crossed for this young man, and so many others like him. We all need for them to succeed.

Friday, March 7, 2014

And I thought the snow was bad

I went to Springfield last week to attend a board meeting of our state association for youth service organizations. I’m starting my ninth month of retirement from a job in which I was closely linked to state budgets and funding for services for kids. The state was our biggest funder. Nearly every organization that serves abused, neglected, or troubled kids in a concrete and tangible way here in Illinois is in the same boat. I know it’s a perspective that will fade, that someday I will either forget or just stop feeling it. That being the perspective that makes you realize how important politics are to the community of not for profit agencies devoted by mission, rather than profit, to help communities stay whole and healthy. But I haven’t lost that perspective yet.

If you’re an agency exec or a board member responsible for a social service organization it’s easy, especially this year, to challenge those around you with these questions and this argument. “What do you want us to do? We don’t make the budgets. We don’t allocate the money. The legislators do. We do the best we can with what we’re given. We raise some money to put alongside the state funds, we do all we can with federal funds if we have them or can keep them, and we’re as efficient and as thrifty as we possibly can be. Isn’t that enough?”

The answer to that is, “No, it’s not.”

In the shadowy world of Illinois state government two powerful forces have combined to make the upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 budget (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015) even more fictitious than normal. There’s an election cycle (a primary election in March and a general election in November) and a state income tax increase that goes away December 31, 2014 failing further legislative action. Read “go on record as voting for a tax increase.” It has everyone scurrying for cover.

Or simply not talking about it. At stake is about $4 billion dollars annually, but a mere $2 billion in next year’s budget because we have the benefit of the increase for half a year (July 1-December 31). It’s a lot of money. And it becomes a lot more when you try to figure out how to do without it.

But don’t expect to hear any straight talk about it. Who is now for extending that tax increase? Hard to tell. If they are not for it what will they cut to balance the budget without it? Given the large amount of Illinois’ budget that goes to education, health, and social services, which by necessity has to be subject to cuts in any significant budget cutting plan, what exactly gets whacked? What do the people of Illinois do without? Support for public schools, help for abused and neglected kids? Services for the mentally ill, which are already bare bones? Substance abuse services as heroin and prescription drug overdose deaths climb? What gets axed? Nobody’s talking.

Rumor has it the legislators will simply pass lump sum budgets for major departments and leave the decisions, and thus the blame, for the governor to shoulder. That will string it out to July, with no answers evident, and leave but four months and change until the election, after which we can finally settle this tax increase question once and for all in the lame duck session. That’s highly likely to happen.

What’s the problem you say? It leaves Illinois’ government, and the agencies and services it funds, twisting in the wind. That’s the problem. If you are a community agency trying to respond to problems in your area, trying to formulate your own budget, your own annual plan of how much capacity you will have to maintain programs, improve the help you offer to children and families, respond to emerging problems being faced by people in your community; what do you do? If you’re a volunteer board member of one of Illinois’ important children’s agencies how balance the importance of maintaining fiscal stability while at the same time providing quality services to the families that need your help? If you’re an agency executive what do you advise your board to do? And if you work for one of those agencies, or depend on them as a person receiving services, like a child in a foster home, what do you expect your future to be?

If a specific budget is not created that clearly shows what the spending priorities are for Illinois in the next twelve months we as advocates and concerned citizens should insist that vital programs and the contracts that sustain them continue at this year’s level for six months at a minimum until Illinois’ revenue, in regard to the tax extension, is decided. It is not ethical to dismantle important programs, lay off the staff, give up the offices, dismiss the clients, when they may indeed be continued, all in the name of a political bluff. Already Illinois waits in limbo. Will the pension reform deal hold? Will we achieve savings that can be reinvested? Will the tax increase be extended? In the best case we drift, as providers of services, as agencies working to make Illinois communities stronger. Let me give you an example.

DCFS lost its director to cancer after a turbulent year in which he fought off cuts to basic child welfare services. His successor, a man who had served in a longtime leadership role at DCFS and then headed the Department of Juvenile Justice for two years, was appointed DCFS director and then forced to resign a month later. The list of people equipped to handle that job, coupled with the list of those willing to take what could well be an interim appointment till Illinois has a new governor, gets shorter by the day. Meanwhile what happens at DCFS? Little or nothing. It’s amazing how quickly large organizations can deteriorate with weak or non-existent leadership. Multiply that kind of drift, that “waiting to see what happens” by a factor of who knows how much and you have a pretty good picture of Illinois in 2014.

We should be figuring out how to reduce the number of juveniles and adults now expensively incarcerated by funding services that follow them back to their home communities and serve them where they live both before and after they enter that system. How’s that going?

We should be far down the road of determining what among state funded services will fit into services covered by the Affordable Care Act, what the managed care companies now emerging might find worthy of funding (Even if they are not reimbursed for delivering them? How likely is that? It’s a head scratcher.) Which among those services will Illinois continue to support? Drug Abuse Prevention? Community organizing? Outreach to the elderly? Do child care subsidies go on as always? What about pre-school education? Unless I’m wrong, Illinois has hardly a clue. So far the answer seems to be “Let’s put that off and see how the budget develops.”

Abused and neglected kids, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, families living in poverty, individuals jailed for drug dependence which could be treated, troubled young people-they all deserve an organized response, an approach that allows for the planning and implementation of sustainable programs which truly help in a quantifiable way. What do they get? They get wait and see. Let’s see how the election turns out first. We’ll get to you later. Illinois deserves better. We should all help those that need us most find an answer to their obvious question “What about us?”